The BCHL will have an extra team in the hunt for the Fred Page Cup starting next season.
The league announced Tuesday that Cranbrook has been awarded an expansion franchise. The Cranbrook Bucks will join league action in the 2020-21 season as the league’s 18th team.
“We are pleased to add Cranbrook as the 18th member of the BC Hockey League,” said BCHL Commissioner Chris Hebb. “The city already has a rich hockey history and we are excited to see them add to that legacy and bring BCHL hockey to another great community in our province.”
At the helm of the new franchise is majority owner and president Nathan Lieuwen, a former professional goaltender who suited up for seven NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres in the 2013-14 season.
“We are extremely excited to bring a BCHL franchise to Cranbrook and the East Kootenay,” said Lieuwen.
“We are grateful for all parties involved in bringing the BCHL to Cranbrook and we can’t wait for the puck to drop for the 2020-21 season.”
Cranbrook’s mayor, Lee Pratt, is likewise excited to have hockey back in his city.
“Having a BCHL franchise showcasing an exciting brand of hockey will be a great addition to the economic well-being of the City,” said Pratt.
“Nathan and his group, along with City staff have worked closely together these last few months to bring this great entertainment to the citizens at an affordable price. We welcome the Bucks to Cranbrook and look forward to many years of exciting hockey.”
The Bucks will play out of Cranbrook’s Western Financial Place – the former home of the WHL’s Kootenay Ice before the team relocated to Winnipeg in January of this year.
“They’ve got a great facility for the Junior A level,” said Vernon Vipers head coach and manager Jason McKee.
The expansion triggers a realignment of the divisions in the BCHL, but managers will have to wait a while to know what changes will be made to the current division format.
“There’s definitely some different scenarios that everyone’s looking at,” McKee said. “But when it’s all said and done it’ll be nice to have another team in a great location, and the league will figure out the divisions and what works out for the league as a whole.”