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New owner Hartshorne vows to take Victoria Grizzlies from 'good to great'

Shamrocks owner takes majority ownership of BCHL team June 1
Longtime Shamrocks owner Jim Hartshorne is becoming majority owner of the Victoria Grizzlies on June 1. SUBMITTED

Jim Hartshorne, the new ­majority owner of the Victoria Grizzlies of the B.C. Hockey League, gave a knowing smile when reminded of the adage that ownership of sports teams is generally a low financial-return game if there is a financial return at all.

The rewards come in other, more intangible, ways, he said. Hartshorne recalled, when ­co-owning the Victoria Cougars and the excitement of flying to Calgary for the must-win Game 6 of the Western Hockey League final in 1981 and then quickly back the next day for the memorable Game 7 victory by Barry Pederson, Grant Fuhr and the rest at a packed Memorial Arena.

Also, as owner of the ­Victoria Shamrocks of the Western Lacrosse Association, ­Hartshorne said watching his four grandchildren on the floor of The Q Centre with the Mann Cup national championship trophy in 2015 is a special moment etched in his memory.

Hartshorne said he wants to bring such moments of glory to the Grizzlies and is the reason he has bought majority ownership of the team from Ron Walchuk, effective June 1. Walchuk will remain with the team as minority owner. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“I do it because I love building teams,” said Hartshorne.

“For me, growing sport is what it is all about. What sports teams mean to their local communities, especially in today’s world, is more important than ever.”

But they need a person or persons to backstop operations financially.

“I love community-owned teams but community-owned teams in every city are ­having problems. That model just doesn’t work anymore,” said Hartshorne, 75, a Westshore businessman and developer.

The Grizzlies placed fourth in the just-completed 2023-24 regular season in the Coastal Conference of the BCHL and open the playoffs Friday and Saturday at The Q Centre in the first round of the playoffs against the fifth-place Nanaimo Clippers.

“The Grizzlies are good but we want to take them to great on the ice,” said Hartshorne.

Off the ice, as well, added Hartshorne: “With an emphasis on getting fans back into The Q Centre to enjoy this brand of hockey. We want to triple the fan base. It will be great to see ­Grizzlies games full of excited and enthusiastic fans, the same way our Shamrocks [lacrosse] games have been for years.”

The product is there — 81 BCHL alumni skated in the 2024 NCAA tournament heading to the Frozen Four — and is evolving.

“The level of play in the BCHL is impressive,” said ­Hartshorne.

He added he is solidly behind the BCHL move last year to leave Hockey Canada and go independent.

“It was a good move and I predict this is the route other Junior A leagues across Canada will take,” said Hartshorne.

“It has already begun with the five teams that have joined the BCHL from the Alberta junior league. I believe other junior leagues in Canada will make the move [to go independent], too.”

As for the Grizzlies, there are games to win and memories to make, he said: “I have a need to win. I am not a good loser. For me, when it comes to choosing an option, it is always Option A.”

Hartshorne, meanwhile, expressed confidence in ­veteran BCHL mentor and current ­Grizzlies GM and head coach Rylan Ferster.

AROUND THE BCHL: After 51 years as a member of the B.C. Hockey League, the ­Merritt Centennials announced ­Sunday the franchise is departing for the lower-level Kootenay International Junior Hockey League effective the end of the ­current BCHL season. The club is also moving from community ownership to private ownership as Brad Anstey and Daniel ­Schofield have purchased the club. The team will continue to play out of the 1,000-seat Nicola Valley Memorial Arena. Among the current KIJHL teams are the Kamloops Storm, ­Princeton Posse, Kelowna Chiefs and Chase Heat.