Matthew Fraser knew it would take more than just playing hockey to help the Penticton Silver Bullets make their triumphant return to Memorial Arena after a nearly three-decade hiatus.
The 31-year-old is the captain of the city’s senior men’s AA franchise, one that reformed in October 2022 following its disbandment from the B.C. independent hockey scene in the spring of 1994.
When his five-year stint as assistant coach of the Penticton Vees ended in 2021, Fraser was motivated to bring back the team that competed for BC Hockey’s Coy Cup in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“We want to create new, special memories at Memorial Arena,” he said just days before the puck dropped for the Silver Bullets’ first game in 28 years.
And, so they did. The team welcomed its divisional rivals, the Powell River Regals, to one of Penticton’s most historic venues from Oct. 14 to 15 for a weekend the Silver Bullets’ players will never forget.
“We were all just thinking, ‘wow, this is pretty awesome’,” Fraser recalled when he and his teammates watched those in stands embrace the independent squad. “We can do something special this year and we just hope this great hockey city continues to support us.”
Since then, Penticton owns a 7-1-0 record, good enough for first place in its three-team division with the Rossland Warriors and aforementioned Regals.
The Silver Bullets will return home on Jan. 21, to battle the Warriors, marking a rematch from Dec. 18, when the Okanagan’s only independent hockey team completed a two-game sweep of their foes from the Kootenays.
Led on the ice by former Vancouver Canucks farmhand Jagger Dirk, along with Daylan Robertson, Keaghen Roberts, Archie McKinnon, Connor Potter and Pierce Diamond, the team has not only created their desired “special memories” at Memorial Arena but also proved that building an independent sports team from the ground up, with limited funds, is very possible.
“We’ve had to arrange travel plans across the province to make it to road games, collect donations, find sponsors and do our best to make sure people around our hockey town know that we’re back on the ice,” Fraser explained.
And if doing all that was a test, the Silver Bullets are passing with flying colours.
Although remaining the only team in its division to offer free admission to games, Penticton has managed to thrive as an independent franchise thanks to fans who donate funds at the arena and local sponsors who were eager to show their support from the start. Highway 97 Brewing, for instance, will be selling beer inside Memorial Arena at the Silver Bullets’ next home game on Jan. 21.
To ensure the independent franchise lives on for many years to come, though, Fraser says he hopes more local businesses jump on board as sponsors, in the name of supporting Penticton as the “great hockey town it is.”
Sporting a look inspired by Wayne Gretzky’s Los Angeles Kings from the early 1990s, the Silver Bullets have embraced their Memorial Arena home since October by playing music in between whistles, announcing player names after each goal and even having their own goal horn.
If successful in emerging as the top team in their division after a brief playoff round later this winter, the team will earn the right to battle other teams from across B.C. in pursuit of capturing the Coy Cup.
Penticton’s full schedule can be found