Now that the announcement has been made that the West Kelowna Warriors are staying put, the man who organized a last-minute rally to help save the team says the work is really about to start.
Larry McLean, an ardent supporter of the team since day one 10 years ago, said with local investors stepping up to help keep the BC Hockey League team in the city, its up tot he fans to get out and support the team.
“That’s going to be crucial,” said McLean, minutes after hearing the announcement by team director of business operations Alex Draper that the the Warriors will not be moved out of town.
There was concern after first a deal was said to be done to move the team to North Delta, and then, after that appeared to fall through, fear it could be moved to Quesnel.
But team owner Mark Cheyne was successful in finding local investors willing to help keep the team in West Kelowna.
Cheyne has been losing money with the team each year—reported to be as much as $250,000 per season—and was looking to sell the team. Despite winning the national junior A championship last season, the team has struggled at the gate, drawing crowds of around 800 to 900 to Royal LePage Place for regular season games.
Team officials say average crowds of closer to 1,200 are needed to make the team a viable business operation in West Kelowna. Royal LePage Place holds about 1,500.
McLean said while he had a feeling the city would get to keep the team when it he heard the decision on its future would be made during the first playoff game at Royal LePage Place on Friday night, he was still nervous.
But those nerves turned to delight when he heard Draper say that when the puck drops this Septembers for the start of the 2017-18 season, it will do so at Royal LePage Place.
Another excited fan at Friday’s game was West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater.
He called the announcement that the team was staying “great news,” both for the fans and for the community.
“(The team) means so much,” said Findlater, adding Friday’s announcement means he will be buying season’s tickets for next season.
Findlater said the team’s players are great role models for kids in the city and the team has an economic impact on the local economy of about $4 million.
When Draper made the announcement from the ice during the first intermission Friday, the 1,124 on hand for the game jumped to their feat and cheered loudly.
One fan, Celine Lapointe, admitted she was close to tears.
“I’m so excited,” she said, decked out in her special-edition pink and white Warriors jersey.
For other fans, the news was just as welcomed, even if they did not show as much emotion.
Dave Cutler said he was worried prior to hearing the announcement and felt the team would leave town.
But he said he was pleased to hear it was staying.
“It’s wonderful,” he said above the prolonged cheering of the crowd .