The Clippers just became more competitive.
Nanaimo’s B.C. Hockey League team is under new ownership, as Wesley and Penny Mussio were announced as the 95 per cent majority owners at a press conference last week.
It’s a little bit early in the transition to know what sort of owner Wes Mussio will be, but I think it’s safe to say this much: he really wants to win.
It was evident just a few minutes into my first interview with Mussio that he’s a competitive guy. He’s proud of the first-place record sported by the Delta Ice Hawks, the junior B hockey team he had to sell in order to purchase the Clippers. As he talked about turning around that franchise, about wanting to get involved with higher-tier hockey and about his own experience playing, his competitive streak kept coming through.
The next day, one minute into his introductory press conference at Nanaimo’s Frank Crane Arena, Mussio was talking about the RBC Cup national tournament, and about trophies, rings and championships, plural.
It’s been a little over a decade, now, since the Clippers last hoisted a trophy. They won the Fred Page Cup BCHL championship in 2004 and 2007 and reached the final in 2008 and 2015.
Although the Clippers are almost always in contention, it wasn’t that long ago that the community might have been satisfied just with the participation ribbon of having a team. It was only eight months ago that previous owner Ken Wagner and his partners were considering moving the team.
Wagner, while proud of the successes and player development over 11 years in Nanaimo, admitted to me last week that lately, his group really hadn’t been giving the Clippers the resources to keep up.
“When your heart’s not in it, then we weren’t doing the club or the city any favours by owning it because we weren’t doing what it takes to get to the next level,” he said.
Wagner said an owner needs to offer passion, energy and capital, and he thinks Mussio can supply those things.
“With Wes, we’ve got a good owner here who’s going to really give us the resources to put the best team on the ice,” said Darren Naylor, the Clippers’ new head of hockey operations. “He loves to win and he’ll spend the money to win.”
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Winning won’t come automatically. The BCHL is a high enough tier of hockey that it’s extremely difficult to dominate.
Building the fan base might be even harder – Nanaimo has more sports on the calendar than it used to and the Clippers have competition as far as sports entertainment. But if there is work to be done, then there are rewards to be earned. The Clippers, still the biggest game in town, have a lot of potential to create community and capture it.
A new owner means the Clippers don’t need to go to their fans, cap in hand. Sure, our junior A hockey club will always need supporters, sponsors, volunteers and billet families. But as the team enters a new era and reaffirms its commitment to competitive, contending hockey, what the Clippers really need is a community that will come to the arena to cheer.