Years of effort for owners Phil and Brenda Levesque finally paid off last spring when their expansion bid into the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League was accepted. The Buccaneers were placed in the North Division with Campbell River, Comox, and Oceanside.
The club’s name is derived from the last Junior B team—of the same name—to exist in Nanaimo. The original ‘Buckaneers’ skated in the now-demolished Civic Arena until the late ’70s.
The team, already affectionately dubbed ‘the Bucs’ by locals, opened the season with a 5–4 overtime victory Sept. 6 over the Comox Valley Glacier Kings.
“It felt fabulous!” Brenda Levesque says of seeing the team in action for the first time.
“There is a lot of work and organization to get [a Junior B team] started, and it was rewarding to see it pay off with so many people in the stands…it was even more rewarding to see the final puck go in the net for the overtime win,” Levesque says.
Despite Nanaimo Ice Centre’s seating capacity of 480, the Bucs are hopeful their exciting brand of hockey will create an electric atmosphere. Situated on Third St. and within sight of VIU, the arena is convenient for students to catch home games on Thursday nights.
“We are looking forward to VIU students attending the games,” Levesque says. “It is a great, fun, entertaining way to spend Thursday nights—close enough to walk home for many.”
Tickets are reasonably priced at $8 for students and $35 for a five-game punch card. Levesque said 2-for-1 coupons were handed out in student welcome bags as well. Seven players on the
Buccaneers are registered for courses at VIU.
The Junior B level of hockey fills a developmental gap between competitive minor hockey and Junior A. In the past, players looking to play Junior B were forced to commute or move away from home. As the age group for junior hockey is generally 16–20, a local team eliminates the need for players’ families to make sacrifices for hockey.
Many players use Junior B hockey as a stepping-stone to develop their game and land a spot on a Junior A club like the Nanaimo Clippers, or even a Major Junior team.
“We are a young team and many of our players have their sights on playing Junior A in the future,” Levesque says. “Our job is to do our best to develop them and increase their chances. If we can send players every year to Junior A, then we have done our job.
“We have close ties to many of the Junior A teams on the island and are confident that our players will get chances to [be called up] for those teams and to move up when the time comes.”
While development is fundamental in junior hockey, the Bucs still aim to win as many games possible. Nanaimo has already surpassed the 1998–99 Victoria Cougars, the VIJHL’s most recent expansion team, who registered just a single win in their inaugural season.
“We have set our sights on winning every game we can, knowing we will make mistakes but learning from them and growing as a team,” Levesque says. “No team comes out looking to lose, and when we do, we will look at what needs to be improved on so that we don’t repeat our mistakes.”
Nanaimo benefits from Junior B hockey outside of the rink as well. According to Levesque, a club adds $300 thousand to $400 thousand to the local economy.
“I think the community is happy to have the Bucs here,” Levesque says. “Most of the dollars generated by the team get spent back in the community. We hire local people, rent ice, hire busses for out-of-town, and the people who come to the games shop here and support local businesses.”
Levesque said they were still able to draw sponsors, despite having just a few months to prepare for the 2012 season.
“Since we did not get approval until May, we knew our first year would be a tough one,” Levesque says. “But once word got around and people have gotten a chance to know us, sponsorship dollars are
coming in, and we will keep selling, and making sure our customers get good value for their advertising dollars.
“We’re off to a great start—now we just have to keep it going,” Levesque says.
The Bucs’ next home game is Thursday, Sept. 20 at 7:30 p.m. against the Oceanside Generals.