Junior B hockey is coming back to Port Alberni.
The ownership that owns the Alberni Valley Bulldogs of the B.C. Hockey League received approval on Thursday, May 27 to join the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League for the fall of 2021. The Port Alberni Bombers will join the VIJHL’s north division starting in September. There are currently nine teams in the league from Victoria to Campbell River.
“It’s an exciting time for Junior Hockey in Port Alberni,” said David Michaud, who will oversee hockey operations for the Jr. B Bombers.
“Our group is thrilled to add another team to the Port Alberni hockey scene. Since acquiring the Bulldogs in 2019, we’ve wanted to add to the hockey landscape here. I believe with great passion that Port Alberni can be the hub of hockey development in the North Island. Bringing the Bombers to life is the next step in that vision.
“We have some work to do still, there are a few I’s to be dotted, and T’s to be crossed, but we’re thrilled that Jr. B hockey will be played this fall at the Multiplex.”
The Bombers are one of two expansion teams approved for the VIJHL this year. The Lake Cowichan Kraken have also received BC Hockey approval, VIJHL president Simon Morgan confirmed, which will bring the league up to 11 teams. Morgan said “additional interests” are still under discussion for the 2022 season. The Kraken will play in the South Division.
Michaud said he is grateful for the support he’s received from city Parks, Recreation and Heritage director Willa Thorpe, Alberni Valley Minor Hockey Association and Port Alberni city council. The Bombers will play at the Alberni Valley Multiplex next season.
The vision for the Bombers ties back to Michaud’s days with the Major Midget Okanagan Rockets. “I was proud to have helped develop a program that kept younger players at home while giving them a chance to play hockey, develop, and gain exposure. That’s exactly what we plan to do with the Bombers. We envision the Bombers as the logical next step for graduating Alberni Minor Hockey midget age players, as well as a spot for potential Bulldogs players to develop their skill in our program and under our guidance.”
Michaud said the Bombers will work with the AVMHA to find players to sign for their inaugural season, and will move some of their minor hockey Bulldog prospects around too. “We’ll have to hit the ice over the summer and hold some development camps, and start signing some players. It will be a busy summer.”
Mike Doucette, president of AVMHA, is excited at the prospect of giving Alberni Valley hockey players a chance to play at home. “We had upwards of 10 players playing outside our catchment at academies and with Jr. B teams outside of town,” Doucette said. “I think (the Bombers) will be an excellent opportunity for some of our local kids to play closer to home and for parents to have less expensive options.”
Doucette said he has spoken with Bombers’ management regarding ice time, and doesn’t believe minor hockey will lose out with scheduling a new junior team. He spoke with teams in Campbell River, Courtenay, Parksville and Victoria who all have Jr. B teams and said “they all have great relationships with them. I’m very confident it will be the same case here.”
The last time Port Alberni had a Junior B hockey team was in 2001-02 when the Alberni Bandits played at the Multiplex. The next year the BCHL moved the Bulldogs to Port Alberni from Burnaby and the Bandits folded after five seasons.
Michaud said there is room for both a Jr. B and a Jr. A team in Port Alberni.
“The business model for Jr. B has greatly changed over the last 20 years. It’s really become a feeder league.”
Having player fees means teams are more sustainable, and in Port Alberni they won’t be competing for hockey fans. Michaud said having the same owners for both teams creates efficiencies in the front office. “That makes it really feasible as well.”
The team already had social media pages on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram under @portbombers and a website is in development as well.
The search for the Bombers’ first head coach and general manager is underway and the club hopes to make a decision by the first week of June. Bulldogs’ coach Joe Martin will oversee hockey operations for both clubs. Michaud said the Bombers will be a development opportunity for coaching staff as well as players.
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