The local business community got an insider perspective of operations of the Cranbrook Bucks as majority owner Nathan Lieuwen delivered a presentation on Wednesday at the Royal Alexandra Hall.
Lieuwen spoke about the importance of building relationships and working together as a community as key ingredients to establishing a culture for the organization, both on and off the ice.
“We want to see a franchise succeed, we want to see a franchise that does things the right way, works with the community, and advances players on to the next level,” Lieuwen said.
“…I think it’s pretty clear that Cranbrook in the BCHL has an opportunity to become a top tier franchise and I think it’s already being seen that way, just through recruiting, just through working together through each of the partners and talking about big events coming to Cranbrook because of our facility — it’s already being seen in that light as a top-tier team in this league.”
Getting into the business plans, Lieuwen noted there had been one major demographic missing from junior hockey games at Western Financial Place over the last few years.
“A big part of what we wanted to do coming in, was price things so that they were extremely affordable for young families,” he said. “We were really excited to announce that we could do kids 10 [years] and under could come to the games for free, with an adult.
“For us, that was just a no brainer. Who do we want in those stands to begin with? We want kids that are going to enjoy it.”
Lieuwen also spoke about the need for a better fan experience and more ‘targeted fun’ during the games, pointing the addition of a new video replay scoreboard that is set to be installed.
“We’re really about family, we’re really about building a culture and we want everyone to be a part of that,” Lieuwen said. “It’s not like we’re just expecting people to be there because they’re from Cranbrook; there’s no expectation. We want people to want to be there, we want families to want to come together and be a part of what we’re trying to do here.”
Additionally, the Bucks will be taking over the operation of the concessions and restaurant at Western Financial Place, which will help with cross-marketing and creating promotional packages, Lieuwen said. Lieuwen said he also wants to look at bringing in a hot beverage option, such as when Hot Shots ran a coffee bar on the arena concourse many years ago.
From a corporate sponsorship perspective, Lieuwen pledged a commitment to work with the business community to meet individual advertising needs.
“We want targeted and specific win-win situations,” Lieuwen said.
Lieuwen, who should need no introduction to hockey fans in Cranbrook, is a former Kootenay Ice goaltender, and NHL alumni who was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres. He took the lead in pursuing the BCHL for an expansion franchise in town when the former Kootenay Ice announced plans to relocate to Winnipeg a year ago.
Born in Abbotsford, Lieuwen himself played in the BCHL before stepping up to major-junior with the Ice and later embarking on a pro career. He settled in Cranbrook after his playing days with his wife, Breanne, and two young children.
While the Bucks are still filling out the roster and hockey operations department, Lieuwen has big visions for the franchise and the community.
“There’s no reason why Cranbrook can’t be the host city for a college showcase, which is something that the BCHL puts on every September to bring in all the NCAA teams to watch all 18 teams play in one community,” Lieuwen said. “I think Cranbrook has an awesome venue for that kind of stuff and I think it’s something that we should absolutely look at in the future.
“And then even bigger than that, I think we should be looking at the national championship, the Centennial Cup. I think these are things that Cranbrook would be an amazing host for, and I’ve had a couple other teams and Hockey Canada themselves say that Cranbrook would be an amazing location for these things.”
Other plans include setting up a hockey school, with quality coaching and support from Bucks roster players, set up a reading program for players to head into the schools and interact with young fans, among other initiatives.
“I want them to be right in the mix of the fabric of what this town is trying to do,” Lieuwen said.