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Victoria Grizzlies undergo ownership change

The long anticipated changes at the ownership level became official Monday for the Victoria Grizzlies.

The long anticipated changes at the ownership level became official Monday for the Victoria Grizzlies.

Former majority owner Ron Walchuk welcomed aboard John Wilson and Pete Zubersky (co-owners of the Peninsula Panthers of the VIJHL), Don Robinson (a Grizzlies scout and former businessman) and Reza Binab, and will also soon add Kirby Yeats (of Kirby’s Source for Sports) to the group.

Binab, who remained as business manager after the team was sold to Walchuk by Len Barrie last year, returns to the ownership assembly, which also includes Mark Wagstaff (who never left). Zubersky takes over immediately as director of operations, on and off the ice.

“Our goal is to have a nice, strong ownership base that can take the franchise to the next level,” Walchuk told media during a hastily called afternoon news conference. “It was my plan from the beginning to try and get a more diverse spread of ownership group.”

The fact of the matter is, Wilson was introduced as a second alternate team governor (along with Wagstaff) at a league meeting in October. The addition of owners finally came to fruition after weeks of speculation about the team possibly being up for sale and struggling financially at the gate.

Walchuk denied the club was ever up for sale, only looking to expand on the group. Did it take longer than he hoped?

“Absolutely,” stressed Walchuk, who remains as governor for now, but will likely step aside for Wilson, with Walchuk and Zubersky becoming alternates. “The sport is a passion. As for the operation, I am limited with my time, so I needed people with more expertise. You surround yourself with good people and you develop a good product.”

Hence the addition of Wilson — who becomes president of the group — and Zubersky.

“We all collectively believe that the focus of this team are the players, fans and community and we’re working together to bring it to the community and make it a fun place to be,” said Wilson, president and CEO of Wilson’s Transportation.

“Pete will be doing most of the legwork. We have a good team around him, both on and off the ice. I will do some business guidance from the office, but for the most part, Pete will run the show.”

Zubersky is no stranger to Grizzlies fans, having run the Salsa for three seasons, having previously worked with Wagstaff and Binab.

“It’s important and it’s in my heart to get into the community and be a community player,” said Zubersky. “We want to become best friends and partners with Juan de Fuca minor hockey. That’s our target group. We want to be involved with all minor hockey groups and Junior B teams as well.”

As for the league itself, BCHL commissioner John Grisdale looks forward to the change, which was in the works for almost two months.

“Ron had indicated that he was in search of additional partners. Now he’s adding those partners and just fulfilling what he told the board of governors,” said Grisdale, who also stated Walchuk needed only to go through the legal process internally and did not require league approval since it is not a sale of greater than 51 per cent to one owner.

“Personally, I and the board of governors feel it’s more positive when more people get involved because [organizations] are more difficult to run these days.”

Grisdale added that legally the organization changes hands according to the buy and sell ownership agreement. The group did not share publicly the percentages of that ownership.

mannicchiarico@timescolonist.com