Video: Nanaimo Clippers announce potential relocation

The city and the sports community could lose Nanaimo Clippers hockey.

The B.C. Hockey League club held a press conference Thursday at Frank Crane Arena to announce that the team will be relocated or shut down if new ownership can’t be found in the next two weeks.

“We need some more local ownership here to make this work,” said Ken Wagner, the team’s owner. “I believe that if there’s more local ownership it will work. I don’t want to be the guy who moves this team after 45 years.”

David LeNeveu, Clippers president and a minority owner, is leading an effort to try to keep the team in Nanaimo.

“I need the support of the fans and the businesses in this community. I’m asking for that continued support,” he said. “The second thing I’m going to ask for is for a group of people or a single individual or a couple of people to step forward and come and buy the ownership of the Nanaimo Clippers from the current group.

“Without somebody stepping forward or a group of individuals stepping forward, I fear that the club will be moved in very short order.”

Wagner and his partners have been looking to sell the Clippers for the past two years, and the owner said the city’s recent sports and events centre referendum – which would have brought a major junior hockey team to Nanaimo, displacing the Clippers – was a contributor to potential relocation of the franchise.

“We felt we were forced to go out and find another place to play hockey. Well, we did,” Wagner said. “We have a city that is willing to bend over backwards to have a junior A hockey team.”

He wouldn’t identify the city in question, but BCHL commissioner John Grisdale mentioned Campbell River as a possible destination in an interview with the News Bulletin earlier this year. Grisdale said Thursday that a relocation process could be expedited in time for the team to take the ice in a different city by the 2017-18 season. He also confirmed that the 17-team league has been working on a 2017-18 schedule with only 16 teams in case the Clippers suspend operations.

Wagner, who has owned the team for the past 11 years, said there are financial benefits to moving the club.

“We’ve hit a wall in Nanaimo as an ownership. We’ve tried for a lot of years to make it work…” he said. “We are done writing cheques. We’re spent out … The business side of it is the numbers are the numbers. The emotional side is we don’t want to move the club.”

Wagner said he thinks two weeks is long enough to find a new owner or owners. LeNeveu said time is of the essence.

“This is not a ploy, this is not a threat, this is actual. I’ve been on conversations where there’s interest elsewhere and there is a timeline,” he said. “I really believe that the team will succeed here, but we do need local ownership. We do need local people that have a vested interest in this community and in this team and in these players.”

Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay said he understands that hockey is a business and the owners need to make business decisions. He called the Clippers part of the “cultural fabric” in Nanaimo.

“So we have to do what we can do now to rally behind the team and to see if we can get some investors…” McKay said. “All is not lost, but we’ve got to get our community together to say we understand what happens when the Clippers play and they play well and what they contribute to the community and we’re behind them.”

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