A city with a rich junior hockey history, Cranbrook has been awarded a franchise in the B.C. Hockey League.
The Cranbrook Bucks will become the 18th BCHL team and will play out of Western Financial Place starting in the 2020-21 season.
Cranbrook, located 229 km west of Trail near the B.C.-Alberta border, was going to get a team in either the BCHL or Alberta Junior Hockey League after its Western Hockey League team (Kootenay Ice) moved to Winnipeg for the 2019-20 season.
"We are pleased to add Cranbrook as the 18th member of the B.C. Hockey League," said BCHL commissioner Chris Hebb. "The city already has a rich hockey history and we are excited to see them add to that legacy and bring BCHL hockey to another great community in our province."
The Bucks are led by majority owner and president Nathan Lieuwen. Lieuwen was previously a pro goaltender, playing five seasons in the AHL and ECHL and also suiting up for seven NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres in the 2013-14 season.
He also had a brief stint in the BCHL as a member of the Westside Warriors in 2007-08 where he played 11 games.
Penticton Vees president, GM and head coach Fred Harbinson said Cranbrook – with a population of 19,259 as of the 2016 census - is a good location for a BCHL team.
“There is a great history there and they’ve got a great building,” said Harbinson, of the 4,264-seat WFP that was built in 2000. “Those are the kind of buildings and markets were looking to attract as a league.”
The BCHL said in a release the addition of Cranbrook will trigger a realignment of divisions the league will announce at a later date.
Harbinson said his preference would be to have a pair of nine-team divisions, with Cranbrook naturally joining the Interior Division along with one other team – likely either Prince George or Chilliwack.
“That’s just my opinion as a coach, but I think that would work best even if we had an unbalanced schedule,” said Harbinson. “I’m sure the league will consider a few different possibilities.”
The Kootenay Ice left Cranbrook for Winnipeg after a dreadful 13-45-7-3 season in 2018-19.
The Ice franchise was founded in 1996 and played two years in Edmonton before moving to the East Kootenays. The team enjoyed plenty of success in Cranbrook, winning WHL titles in 2000, 2002 and 2011, and capturing the Memorial Cup in 2002.
Junior hockey first came to Cranbrook in 1971 as the Cranbrook Colts joined the Kootenay International Hockey League and won the league championship its first five years in existence, then went on another run of six straight titles from 1981/82 to 1987/88. The Colts also won seven Cyclone Taylor Cup provincial junior-B championships.
The Colts joined the now-defunct Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League for seven years, winning titles in their last two seasons in 1996/97 and 1997/98. The league folded after the 1998-99 season.
For more information on the Bucks, visit their website at www.cranbrookbucks.ca or follow them on social media.