Craig Musgrove is a self-described ‘diehard’ fan of the B.C. Hockey League’s West Kelowna Warriors.
So when news broke this week that the club would likely be leaving West Kelowna at the end of the current season, Musgrove was, to say the least, distraught.
“This has been difficult, the Warriors were very personal for me,” said Musgrove, a season-ticket holder for Warriors’ games at Royal LePage Place since 2010.
“It’s been a meeting place, a social event where a lot of people with the same interests get together. Those things alone will be missed.
“The hockey, of course, the players, the people in the organization,” added Musgrove, “they all become part of your life.
“There’s just a real feeling of emptiness right now.”
If all unfolds as expected, the Warriors will be headed to North Delta’s Sungod Arena for the start of the 2017-18 season.
Warriors’ owner Mark Cheyne has signed a letter of intent to transfer ownership of the club to a Delta businessman, with the move subject to approval by the league’s board of governors.
A money-losing venture since moving to West Kelowna from Langley in 2006, Cheyne took over sole ownership of the club in 2009.
With an RBC Cup championship run last season, Cheyne hoped the club’s financial fortunes would finally take a turn for the better.
But with community support for the team and attendance remaining stagnant this season, Cheyne said the writing was on the wall.
“We were never even close to breaking even once and after awhile it’s just no fun anymore,” Cheyne said. “The last few years, you look for that light at the end of the tunnel, and when we won it all last year, we hoped that would be it.
“I was told once you get by Vernon, once you get by Penticton, once you win something big, it’ll turn around,” Cheyne added. “But the light at the end never came.”
Cheyne, who moved with his family to West Kelowna in 2007, said the decision to pull up the team’s stakes came with considerable soul searching.
“It was difficult,” said Cheyne, “a long, hard decision. It hurts me and I know some people will be hurt this. But there’s not much else we can put into it.”
For Craig Musgrove, the Warriors were the centrepiece of his family’s winter calendar and he wishes more could have been done to keep the club in West Kelowna.
But Musgrove also understands the financial realities of operating a junior A franchise.
“I can’t hold anything against Mark [Cheyne],” he said. “You can’t keep operating at a loss like that. Everybody knows BCHL teams don’t make money.
“It was great, cheap entertainment for the fans, it’s really too bad they have to go.”
If the sale goes through, the Warriors will leave Musgrove and hundreds of other devoted fans with some fond memories, thanks largely to last season’s magical run to a Canadian junior A championship.
“The day they finally beat Penticton, that was one of the happiest days I can remember,” he said. “Then they went on a tear, won the Fred Page Cup, they won in Estevan, and then they took care of things in Lloydminster [RBC Cup].
“It was incredible what that team did, it was great to be along for the ride. They’ll leave us with some great memories.”
And Musgrove vows he will be there right to the end, cheering on the Warriors to their last second on the ice at Royal LePage Place.
“For me, that last game will feel like a disaster,” Musgrove said. “A really big piece of West Kelowna is going to be missing and that’s going to be tough.”
–All photos by GreystokePhoto.com—