Port Alberni hockey fans have always embraced the Alberni Valley Bulldogs of the B.C. Hockey League as their own. Now a group of businesspeople wants to make it official by purchasing the team.
The group, led by president Darren DeLuca and director Tom McEvay, has formed the Port Alberni Junior Hockey Society and plans to buy out the three shareholders: majority owner Okanagan Hockey Schools, the See Group of Companies and Dr. David Ness. Only they have just 45 days to raise enough money to do so.
The junior hockey society scheduled a press conference for Thursday at noon, after the News’ deadline. McEvay said the fundraising campaign would be revealed at that time.
The society must raise $500,000 by June 1 ($1 million in total) and the sale must be approved by the BCHL before the non-profit entity could take over, he explained. McEvay stressed the sum is not the share price, but the amount of capital the society believes it needs to put the team on firm financial footing in order to move forward.
Four other teams in the BCHL are operated by non-profits: Powell River, Prince George, Merritt and Trail, McEvay said. “This is not a new thing.”
McEvay said the formation of the society is a natural progression to wanting more community control over the team—it is not a statement on previous ownership. “This initiative is not about poor ownership at all,” he said.
A coaching change is not part of the society’s plans, he added. “We think this organization has the right people in place to move forward.”
Okanagan Hockey Schools president Andy Oakes said OHS has been approached on several occasions to sell its shares, and divesting itself of the Bulldogs has been considered. “It’s been something…we’ve entertained over the last number of months just due to the fact that us being in Penticton and Alberni Valley being so far away,” he said.
The Port Alberni society’s bid has been the most serious, Oakes said.
“I really feel this is a great move for the community. It’s a small, proud community that if they have the ownership and their team, that’s the key to long-term sustainability of that team in the Valley. (There’s) a lot of pride around that team.”
McEvay and the rest of the society are banking on that pride to spur people into helping. Nearly 40 volunteers have already stepped forward, and in a one-hour meeting they raised close to $3,000.
“This community has done some remarkable things in the past,” he said, citing the arena campaign, even the push to bring the Bulldogs to town. Then there was Kraft Hockeyville, West Coast General Hospital and the campaign to send retired wrestler Travis Cross to the Summer Olympics in Beijing, China, in 2008.
“We’re excited. The people we’ve talked to, it appears to have captured their imagination.”
—With files from Emanuel Sequeira, Penticton