Here come the Bucks: Cranbrook joins B.C. Hockey League

From Ice to Bucks.

The city of Cranbrook will go from the Western Hockey League to playing in the B.C. Hockey League as the 18th franchise beginning next season.

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“It doesn’t make much of a difference to us [the Cranbrook Bucks will be in the Interior Conference], but it’s really good for the BCHL as a whole and we welcome it with open arms,” said Victoria Grizzlies president Lance Black.

“It means 23 more juniors will have a chance to play in our league and have a chance to earn NCAA scholarships.”

Black pointed to Cranbrook product and former NHL great Scott Niedermayer being a minority stakeholder in the new Bucks franchise.

“The BCHL does not operate on a draft system, but a recruiting system, so having Scott involved with the club will really have an impact in their recruiting,” predicted Black.

“I think they should come out of the gate running.”

The Bucks will play out of Western Financial Place, formerly home to the Kootenay Ice of the WHL. The Ice relocated to Winnipeg this season after years of falling attendance in Cranbrook.

“[The Bucks] will have a great facility in which to play,” noted Black.

BCHL commissioner Chris Hebb pointed to the tradition of hockey in Cranbrook: “The city already has a rich hockey history and we are excited to see them add to that legacy.”

The Bucks’ executive is headed by majority owner and president Nathan Lieuwen. He is a former goaltender who played five seasons of pro in the AHL and ECHL and seven games in the NHL in 2013-14 with the Buffalo Sabres, the team which drafted him in 2011. The 28-year-old from Abbotsford played four seasons in the WHL for the Ice and knows the area well.

“Having a BCHL franchise . . . will be a great addition to the economic well-being of the city,” said Cranbrook mayor Lee Pratt, in a statement.

The addition of Cranbrook will mean a realignment of the current BCHL divisions, which the league says will be announced at a later date.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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