They may never toss away their fishing rods but more people are opting for the curved blade as the Alberni Valley is becoming Hockey Central. Coming off its successful hosting of the 2021 BCHL Island Division pandemic season in a bubble, the valley has added a team in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League.
The Port Alberni Bombers are the second new franchise added to the VIJHL this week, following the earlier announcement of the Lake Cowichan Kraken. It brings to 11 the number of teams in the Junior B-level VIJHL. As with the NHL Seattle-themed Kraken – which plays off the Lake Cowichan sea-monster myth of Stin’Qua – the Port Alberni team also dips into local lore with a nickname honouring the famed water bombers associated with the Alberni Valley.
The Bombers, who will play in the Alberni Valley Multiplex, are owned by the same group of shareholders who own the Alberni Valley Bulldogs of the BCHL.
“We want Alberni to develop into a hockey hub of the mid- and north-Island,” said Dave Michaud, president of both the Bulldogs and Bombers.
“We ran the numbers and saw a lot of synergies on the business side, including front-office staff, and also in terms of hockey development. There are a lot of advantages in that sense of calling up players who know our Bulldogs system. It helps keep our younger players at home in the Valley and not leaving to play elsewhere. More junior players are going to have more opportunities to play.”
Michaud does not envision the two teams cannibalizing each other’s fans but instead increasing the spectator base for hockey in the Alberni Valley.
“We saw the fan numbers creep up for the Bulldogs pre-pandemic. And we see the Bombers as affordable, family entertainment that will involve minor hockey. Minor hockey was a big supporter of us entering a team in the VIJHL. We couldn’t have done this if the [Alberni Valley Minor Hockey Association] wasn’t supportive. We saw what this community, and our organization’s volunteers, can do when they stepped up to host the BCHL Island Division bubble.”
Michaud said Junior B is an under-rated level. The VIJHL alumni list includes current and former NHLers Jamie Benn, Jordie Benn, Adam Cracknell, Matt Irwin, Ryan O’Byrne, and numerous eventual WHL/BCHL juniors, NCAA collegians and AHL/ECHL pros.
“We see the VIJHL as being a leader in terms of Junior B as a development model,” said Michaud.
“The Bombers are going to be a younger team, not relying as much on 19- and 20-year-olds.”
Bulldogs head coach Joe Martin will handle overall hockey operations for the Bombers, with a coach and GM to be named.
The 2020-21 VIJHL season was cancelled March 9 after 13 games due to the provincial restrictions put in place during the pandemic. With the full reopening of sport in B.C. scheduled to begin Sept. 7, the league is anticipating a normal season in 2021-22.