As the Alberni Valley Bulldogs hockey players gather on the ice at Weyerhaeuser Arena to shake hands with Victoria Grizzlies, having lost their BCHL playoff series 4–0 to Victoria, fans let the team know how they feel. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO As the Alberni Valley Bulldogs hockey players gather on the ice at Weyerhaeuser Arena to shake hands with Victoria Grizzlies, having lost their BCHL playoff series 4–0 to Victoria, fans let the team know how they feel. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

BCHL: Alberni Valley Bulldogs have been sold

Victoria company has purchased BCHL team, but will keep it in Port Alberni

The Alberni Valley Bulldogs may have a new majority owner from Victoria, but there is no threat that the B.C. Hockey League franchise will be leaving Port Alberni anytime soon.

The BC Hockey League (BCHL) board of governors announced late Thursday (July 18) they have given unanimous approval for the sale of the Alberni Valley Bulldogs to Keycorp Sports & Entertainment Ltd. of Victoria.

The company, which own the Victoria Shamrocks of the Western Lacrosse Association (WLA), will become the majority owners, while the existing Port Alberni Junior Hockey Society (PAJHS) will remain involved, working with the new owners. Others in the ownership group include Ron Coutre of Victoria, Dennis See, Stefanie Weber and Tim MacLean of Port Alberni.

READ: Alberni Valley Bulldogs are for sale

“If there were fears of the team leaving, I can tell you wholeheartedly the only reason I did this was because the team was in Port Alberni,” new team president David Michaud said Thursday. “This team screams of potential.”

Michaud, who is also president of Keycorp Sports & Entertainment Ltd., joined the team in December 2018 when former Bulldogs’ business manager Tali Campbell announced he was leaving to join the Nanaimo Clippers at the beginning of January. Campbell stayed to see the Bulldogs through hosting a pair of exhibition games prior to the World Junior Hockey Championships, which were jointly hosted in Vancouver and Victoria in December and January.

Michaud said those two games solidified his belief in the Bulldogs’ hockey franchise. “The turning point for me was seeing the community reaction to the two Jr. A hockey games,” he said. “This community really loves hockey and wants to support the Bulldogs.

“I don’t think over the years the franchise has given them enough to come out. That’s not a slight for all the effort that has been put into it,” he said. He acknowledged the effort of the Port Alberni Junior Hockey Society, which rescued the team in 2012 despite not meeting its financial goals prior to taking over operation of the team.

“It’s tough when you’re instantly starting behind the eight-ball,” Michaud acknowledged. “We get to come and stabilize the ship a little bit, get things back on even footing.

“It became obvious with some added enthusiasm and new direction Port Alberni is an exciting place to have a hockey team…all the elements are there in Port Alberni to make it a great program.”

The first step to achieving that was to secure BCHL coach of the year Joe Martin to move to the Bulldogs from Merritt Centennials. “The ability to bring Joe Martin in was huge for us,” Michaud said.

“I feel a great deal of responsibility to provide Joe with all the tools he needs to run a successful team. We’re very excited about the opportunity ahead of us.”

The BCHL board of governors, which had to approve the sale before it could be announced, is happy with the ownership change.

“The League’s board of governors are looking forward to the blend of old and new with the Alberni Valley franchise, as majority ownership and management falls under Keycorp, an experienced sports organization with a true understanding of our league,” BCHL chairman of the board Graham Fraser said in a statement.

“We are also pleased to see that local ownership will be maintained by keeping the PAJHS in the mix.”

Jim Pelk, chair of the PAJHS, said the team will be staying in Port Alberni—a promise the society made when they announced last year that the team was up for sale. “We have safeguards in the agreement that will keep the team here,” Pelk said while cautioning “nothing’s forever.

“That was a major stumbling block for us, right from the beginning. We feel we’ve got it protected as best as we can.”

Pelk said the society has been negotiating with interested parties since the beginning of the year. Now that the BCHL governors have approved the purchase, he said the team will start with a clean slate. “All debts are paid off, or will be when the lawyers are finished with everything. There will be no outstanding bills, liabilities, payments, nothing,” he said.

“The City (of Port Alberni) has been paid off, vendors are paid off—everybody’s paid.”

Originally an expansion team in 1998 playing out of Burnaby, the Bulldogs moved to Alberni Valley in 2002 and have been there ever since. The PAJHS bought the team in 2012 for $600,000, running it under a community ownership model. They have had a few winning seasons in their history, but not in the last few years.

READ: Alberni Valley Bulldogs plan city repayment

“The Bulldogs are a pillar of our Island Division and the commitment by the fans of Alberni Valley to their franchise has been demonstrated through their 17 years there,” said BCHL Commissioner Chris Hebb. “We believe the energy that a new ownership group brings will drive renewed interest and it will be a strong franchise for many years to come.”

New team president Michaud is no stranger to the BCHL; he has years of experience with the league, spending parts of four seasons with the Penticton Vees and serving on the BCHL’s board of governors. He served as the Bulldogs’ business manager since January 2019.

READ: Tali Campbell leaving Bulldogs for Nanaimo Clippers

“The goal of Keycorp Sports and Entertainment is to acquire properties that would help us expand our reach in the sporting world here on Vancouver Island and beyond,” said Michaud.

“Acquiring the Bulldogs is a tremendous opportunity and we’re very excited to help build on the work that the PAJHS has put in over the years. I’ve seen first hand what an exciting atmosphere the Multiplex can create. It’s our mission to return the Bulldogs to a position of prominence in the community and continue to move players along to the NCAA and ultimately professional hockey.”

ICE CHIPS…Bulldogs’ head coach Joe Martin has been named the head coach of Team Canada West for the upcoming 2019 World Jr. A Challenge in Dawson Creek from Dec. 7–15.

BCHL, Alberni Valley Bulldogs

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Victoria Grizzlies’ forward Marty Westhaver fails to score in front of Alberni Valley Bulldogs’ goalie John Hawthorne midway through the third period of Game 4 in the BCHL Island Division’s opening playoff round, March 6. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

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