American joins Victoria Grizzlies’ ownership group

Mark Stevens is like a modern-day Victor Kiam — the man who said he liked Remington razors so much he bought the company.

Stevens’ story is slightly similar in that the Florida resident has purchased 15 per cent of the B.C. Hockey League’s Victoria Grizzlies and is also lending the now eight-person ownership group some capital to help run out the year.

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With four of the previous 10 owners looking to opt out and with interest in purchasing the team coming from a group in Campbell River, Grizzlies’ governor Lance Black approached Stevens, whose son Jake Stevens is a rookie defenceman with the BCHL club.

Mark Stevens decided, like Kiam — a former owner of the New England Patriots, who passed away in 2001 — to get involved.

Stevens, a 56-year-old independent adviser, buys out Pete Zubersky, Sonya Saujani and Bob McKenzie, who all had five per cent ownership. Jim Swanson, a managing partner with the Victoria HarbourCats, who has helped run the Grizzlies for the last five months, has also purchased Reza Binab’s five per cent.

Ron Walchuk maintains 24 per cent of the club, while president and alternate governor John Wilson and team vice-president of hockey operations Donnie Robinson have 20 per cent each.

“We’re excited about what’s happening here. We’re here in Victoria as long as fans are here to support us,” said Wilson, confirming the business transactions that will be made official next month. “We had some owners who wanted out. They came in to help fix it, stabilize it. We think we have that now.

“They needed to move on from their situation with the club. Some had other jobs to go to and other commitments they needed to put the money toward and we were looking for someone to come in and help us.”

In stepped Stevens, who says he and his wife Kristen had fallen in love with the city of Victoria and the Grizzlies’ community, having visited a handful of times to watch the team play. The Chicago native, who graduated from DePaul University in 1982 with a bachelor of arts/accounting degree, said he was a little hesitant at first, but only because of his son’s situation on the team.

“It may be easier to first say why I wouldn’t want to come on board,” he said.

“With my son on the team and likely planning to spend another season in junior hockey trying to earn a Division I [college] opportunity, one of the last things I’d want to do is meddle with his efforts. We’re proud that he’s a young man that wants to earn everything he gets in life and doesn’t want any help from his parents to be the reason he succeeds, and I wouldn’t want him to be any other way.”

“Having said that, when we were approached with the possibility of changes, we gave deep thought to whether we might be able to do anything to help keep the team where it is. Selfishly, for our son and for all the other boys like him that could return next season, we feel they have a great situation in Victoria, which we’d like to see continue.

“We’ve often said that they won the junior hockey lottery by getting a chance to play junior A hockey in a city like Victoria and if there was anything we could do to help keep it here for them, we’d like to try.”

Expressing a deep appreciation for what a great city and community Victoria is, Stevens stated: “In our very limited experience, BCHL hockey belongs in Victoria and if we could have some impact on keeping it here, it would be an honour.”

He also expressed his thanks for how the organization continues to try and make a proper go of it.

“We’re just trying to make it work,” added Wilson, who wanted the Campbell River rumours quashed. “The hockey climate has changed in Victoria and across the country in the last five years and you can’t run the hockey business the same way you did five years ago.

“We’ve had to make the changes, make cuts where needed. We have a great coaching group and volunteer group and we’re very excited about the future.

“Honestly, this is the best Junior A facility in the country,” Wilson said of The Q Centre. “It’s a great barn and if we can make it work, we will. Wins are starting to come and so are the fans.

“We are very close. It’s like night and day,” he said of changes made to the organization since the new ownership group took control two years ago. “We just need bums in the seats and this team will be successful here in Victoria.

“Campbell River — I’m sure they were just kicking the tires. But we believe [the team] can work in Victoria and we’re working hard to make it work.”

Stevens helps them do that.

“Certainly while my son is on the roster, I will not want to have anything whatsoever to do with the hockey [operations] part of the team,” said Stevens, who has assigned any proxy voting rights to Black.

“This was a very important point to both Jake and I in agreeing to move ahead with this. After my son moves on, I’d say that my role is yet to be determined,” said Stevens, who worked for Transilwrap Company, a plastic film manufacturer and distributor based in Chicago, with 500-plus employees and facilities throughout the U.S. and Canada, for 29 years.

He purchased the business in 2004 with his management team. He sold the business to a private equity investor in 2007 and remained as CEO until 2012. Stevens currently serves on two advisory boards and works part-time as COO/adviser for a former customer of his in Connecticut — a catalog/Internet marketing company selling laminating, printing, binding equipment and related supplies.

mannicchiarico@timescolonist.com

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