Junior B hockey could become reality

There might be room at the rink for another hockey team in the city.

The Nanaimo Buccaneers are making a bid to become an expansion franchise in the junior B Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League.

“We’re still hoping it’s going to go through,” said Phil Levesque, who would own the team along with his wife Brenda.

Nothing has been finalized, as the Levesques have not yet submitted an application to B.C. Hockey. That organization must receive the necessary paperwork by April 1.

“Anytime after that we should get an OK,” said Levesque. “The sooner the better for us, of course, because we can start getting our stuff lined up. It’s a big, big job.”

He said his bid has already been approved by the City of Nanaimo’s parks and rec department, and he also has the support of the VIJHL board of governors.

The Levesques were previously part owners of the Kerry Park Islanders junior B hockey club, and now the Nanaimoites think a junior B team in the Harbour City can fill a void.

“The 17-, 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds, there’s not a lot for them,” Levesque said. “So they go to Oceanside, Comox, Victoria; some of them play in the [Interior]. It’s definitely a stepping stone for a lot of kids. They can play at a higher level, they can go to school, they can work or go to university.”

He’s been interested in bringing a junior B hockey team to Nanaimo for a year and a half, he said. Last year he decided against trying for a team because he was concerned about taking ice time away from minor hockey.

“That’s our No. 1 thing. Youth sports, we weren’t going to take any of their ice,” said Levesque. “I’m not saying they didn’t relocate some things, but I’m told that’s true.”

VIJHL president Greg Batters told Black Press earlier this year he doesn’t think his league is at odds with minor hockey.

“These junior B teams house players that have played minor hockey all their lives,” he said.

Batters said on some VIJHL teams, half the roster is local kids. He used the Saanich Braves as an example.

“I know they have at least seven kids on their team that are from Saanich minor hockey and another three or four from [the surrounding area],” he said. “Junior B allows kids to keep playing the game they love at a higher level.”

Some sports fans might have preconceptions of junior B, but might be suprised at how far the game has come. Batters said the governors have helped the league make strides.

“Before they did a lot to clean up the game, it was a gong show and they made it better hockey and we’re just trying to take it to the next level,” he said. “We have great young coaches, we have great ownership and anybody can beat anybody on any given night ... We’ve got more call-ups to junior A than ever before.”

The Buccaneers would play home games Thursday nights at the Nanaimo Ice Centre.

“If you put 350 in there, wow, what a rocking place that would be,” Levesque said.

Brad Knight, former coach of the North Island Silvertips, would serve as the team’s coach and general manager. Levesque likes black and red as team colours, but those sorts of decisions will be made if the Bucs become a reality.

“We’ve been pretty quiet because we don’t know if we’ve got the team or not…” said Levesque. “I think Nanaimo’s ready for it.”

-with files from James Clarke

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