Skip to content

Low attendance a factor in relocation of North Okanagan Knights: GM

Former Knights head coach and GM said the team, relocated to Quesnel, was close to becoming a contender
The North Okanagan Knights have been sold and are being relocated to Quesnel, the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League announced Thursday, April 4, 2024. (Bowen Assman - Morning Star)

Liam McOnie believes if the North Okanagan Knights had survived for one more season, they would have iced a team capable of winning a Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) championship.

Instead, the Knights are no more, having been sold and relocated to Quesnel, the league announced Thursday, April 4.

The team was acquired from Knights owners Dean and Mynah Keller by Quesnel businessman Tracy Mero. The Quesnel River Rush will be the third KIJHL franchise in the Cariboo along with the 100 Mile House Wranglers and Williams Lake Mustangs.

McOnie, who was the head coach and GM of the Knights for the past three seasons, said the move was in part a business decision, as the Knights had the second-lowest attendance in the league.

“I’m sure that was a factor,” he said, adding attendance did pick up “when it got down to the nitty-gritty and the playoffs.”

The Knights made it to game seven of the second round in the KIJHL playoffs this season, losing that game against the Princeton Posse 7-0 on March 18.

McOnie said this past season — in which the Knights overcame a slow start and went on to give a dominant Posse team a run for their money — was the highlight of his time behind the Knights’ bench.

“Going through all of the adversity that we faced at the start of the season and emerging at the end of the season as a strong team, and really turning boys into men, I thought this group of guys we had this past year was very special.”

And based on the quality of the team’s returning players and the players the team had signed for next season, McOnie says the 2024-25 season could have been the Knights’ year.

“I truly believe that the team that we would have had this upcoming season would have been a championship caliber team,” he said.

McOnie said there were “a tonne” of North Okanagan locals on the team who will now have to decide if they want to play in Quesnel.

“It’s going to be difficult for them to accept that they won’t be able to play junior hockey at home,” he said. “Not a lot of kids in junior hockey get the luxury of being able to play at home.”

The rights of the players remain with the team through the transition to Quesnel, and McOnie said the players will be contacted by incoming coach Dale Hladun to see if they want to play in Quesnel, or if they instead want to request a trade or release.

McOnie believes there is an appetite for junior A hockey in Quesnel and is confident that locals will come out and support their new team.

“I think there’s a tonne of local support as shown with their senior team,” he said, referring to the AA Quesnel Kangaroos of the Canadian International Hockey League.

The Knights represented the North Okanagan for 15 years, and McOnie said it’s tough to be leaving the community that has supported the team for so many years.

“We really can’t speak highly enough about the people that stuck by our sides,” he said. “It meant a lot for myself as an Armstrong local and I’m sure it meant a lot to all of our local players and even our non-local players to see people paying their hard-earned money to come and support us.”

The Knights joined the KIJHL in 2009 and had their most successful season in 2012-13, when they advanced to the finals and lost the championship series against the Castlegar Rebels in five games.

“The KIJHL would like to acknowledge the Keller family and all of the volunteers, billets, fans and sponsors who have contributed to 15 years of junior hockey in Armstrong,” said league commissioner Jeff Dubois.

READ MORE: Quesnel confirmed: River Rush the newest KIJHL team

READ MORE: Coyotes desperately chasing win off the ice in bid to stay in Arizona

Brendan Shykora

About the Author: Brendan Shykora

I started as a carrier at the age of 8. In 2019 graduated from the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University.
Read more