The Cranbrook Bucks are the newest franchise in the BCHL and are set to begin play in September 2020, and MyEastKootenayNow.com is publishing a three-part series that is taking a deeper look into the league and the team as they near closer to their inaugural game.

Part 2 of “Cranbrook Bucks: Road to the BCHL” specifically looks at the Cranbrook Bucks’ hockey operations, while Part 1 provided a view at the BCHL and Part 3 will further into the Cranbrook Bucks’ plans to bolster fan experience.

The Cranbrook Bucks have a plan to be a competitive team in their first year in the BCHL, believing that the structure and format in Junior A will help them put together a strong team on the ice right from the opening faceoff.

With the introduction of the Bucks into the BCHL, the league will have to realign their current divisions (Island, Mainland, Interior) to make space for the 18th franchise. How that will work remains up to the BCHL’s Competition Committee, which may decide a move to four divisions and two conferences or keep the three divisions but balancing to have six teams in each.

Nathan Lieuwen, President and Majority Owner of the Cranbrook Bucks, told MyEastKootenayNow.com that the team’s travel schedules will also be taken into account when realignment is considered.

“The Competition Committee within the BCHL, they set the schedule, they set the divisions, conferences however they want to set it up to make sure that everyone not only gets to play everyone else and we get some diversity of the different teams coming through, but at the same time making that travel schedule as easy as possible for these kids.”

The most likely scenario is that the Cranbrook Bucks will share a division with the Trail Smokeaters, creating a new Kootenay rivalry between the two teams, but the BCHL will determine those exact changes following the 2019/2020 season. Regardless of what happens, Lieuwen believes Cranbrook is in a great spot for the BCHL with the potential for back-to-back home games on weekends and creating economic opportunities for the community.

“Where we’re positioned geographically within the league is going to be great for our economy here in Cranbrook. I think it’s great for local restaurants and hotels and to bring a lot of people in, whether its fans and teams coming in, whatever it is, I think it is going to be a great fit.”

As for actually building a competitive team, Lieuwen believes they can attract players to Cranbrook with the opportunity of being able to play major minutes with a franchise that has a new roster and has a large home venue in Western Financial Place that is undergoing dressing room renovations and upgrades.

“It was a wonderful place to play before and it’s going to be an even better place to play now,” said Lieuwen, who previously played four full seasons in Cranbrook with the WHL’s Kootenay Ice. “I think that a lot of kids are going to be looking our way as to a good place to play in the league.”

Lieuwen said rosters usually turn over quite frequently within the BCHL, as most teams would see five or six players return any given season. With that in mind, the rest of the league is recruiting and looking for players to fill their rosters just as much as Bucks will be in their first season, presently a fairly even playing field.

The BCHL can effectively draw from any league they want to, although the majority of players come from the Canadian Sport School Hockey League (CSSHL) and the BC Hockey Major Midget League (BC MML), while players are also pulled from other Canadian provinces and territories or from the United States.

“We’re looking from the BC Major Midget Leagues to the Sport School Leagues, obviously Alberta right next door, all throughout the U.S. especially the eastern United States,” said Lieuwen, as he’s already begun recruiting and scouting for the Cranbrook Bucks. “The most important thing about drawing players in is using your networks and using the people that you know in hockey that are in a position to help you identify the top players.”

Lieuwen said he is getting a head start on the recruiting process even as he continues the search for the Cranbrook Bucks’ Head Coach and General Manager, so they can have the best start possible once the offseason hits.

“It’s a big decision, in fact, I think this is probably one of the most important decisions that we’ll make in this first year as a franchise. We want someone that has good values, can do things the right way, has the same vision for this team that obviously I foresee for it and someone that has those connections to bring in the top players like we talked about, someone that can network and someone that has some relationships with NCAA because obviously we want to be able to send our kids on to the next level.”

The hope for the Bucks is to have a Head Coach and General Manager in place once the 2019/2020 season ends. From there, Lieuwen said they will look to fill the other staffing positions on the team in order to create a unified culture.

While jerseys, the team mascot, and other announcements are anticipated in the coming weeks and months, the big event for the hockey operations department will be Spring Camp at Western Financial Place from May 1st to 3rd, 2020. Lieuwen told MyEastKootenayNow.com that Spring Camp will be an open slate as they will try to bring in as many players as they can that could eventually work their way onto the roster.

“The league itself is built so that older teams do seem to succeed but that’s not a rule, that’s just kind of a standard and I definitely think that we’ll be able to make some moves to bring in some veterans and some experience and then on top of that with our top recruits and our import players and our BC players, we’ll be able to be very competitive in our first year.”

Lieuwen said Spring Camp will be a great way to connect with their potential players and prospects, noting that it will be a purposeful and competitive event that will allow the Bucks to see how their roster will possibly shape up come Training Camp.

Previous: Cranbrook Bucks: Road to the BCHL (Part 1) – a look into the BCHL

Next: Cranbrook Bucks: Road to the BCHL (Part 3) – a look into fan experience

The training room inside the Cranbrook Bucks team dressing room as of January 20, 2020, while the facility continues renovations. (Bradley Jones, MyEastKootenayNow.com staff)

The weight area inside the Cranbrook Bucks team dressing room as of January 20, 2020, while the facility continues renovations. (Bradley Jones, MyEastKootenayNow.com staff)

The Cranbrook Bucks team dressing room at Western Financial Place as of January 20, 2020, while under renovations. (Bradley Jones, MyEastKootenayNow.com staff)

Previous: Nathan Lieuwen Leading Family-Focused Cranbrook Bucks Franchise (October 16, 2019)