If the Chilliwack Chiefs are sweating the arrival of an American Hockey League franchise 20 minutes to the west, you wouldn’t know it talking to Barry Douglas.
The team’s governor and vice president, business operations, calls the arrival of the Vancouver Canucks AHL affiliate an opportunity for collaboration.
“Cross marketing and creative promotions with pro players and junior players could be pretty fun,” he enthused. “As an example, we could have some of Abbotsford’s players at our games and some of our players at theirs and we could have players from both teams out in the community together. We could have ticket packages both ways and on-ice promotions with prizes from both teams. There are lots of different ways we could work together to give hockey fans the chance to see both the junior and professional level.”
That is a notable change from the tone that was set the last time an AHL team set up shop in Abbotsford.
When the Heat, a Calgary Flames affiliate, arrived in 2009 the Western Hockey League’s Chilliwack Bruins sounded a loud alarm. Then owner and president Darryl Porter told anyone who would listen that the Heat would be the demise of the Bruins, and true enough the team was moved to Victoria following the 2010-11 season.
There were other reasons the Bruins didn’t work, but the AHL competitor certainly played a role. Douglas was in the Bruins front office back then and conceded the relationship between the two teams was adversarial.
“It was year three for our team and there was a lot of stress in the Bruins’ world at the time,” he said. “There were some major concerns, but the big difference is that was the Heat and the Calgary Flames organization. There are a lot of staff in our organization, coaches and players too, who are excited to have Canucks prospects in our own back yard. To be able to watch that level and see what our players are striving for is a pretty cool opportunity for all involved.”
To be sure, there may be some erosion in the Chiefs’ season ticket base as fans check out the new product, but Douglas looks at the growing population and thinks there are enough fans and enough corporate support to make both teams happy.
“We’re approaching 100,000 people in the Chilliwack area, if you take into account the communities that are close by,” he observed. “It’ll come down to scheduling and trying to avoid the exact same game times as often as possible. And I do think a big part of our community also takes pride in helping student athletes achieve their goals, and we believe we’ll always have support for that reason.
“Our entire organization really focuses on community involvement, connecting with schools and other organization, and sincerely giving back to our community. We feel we do things for the right reasons and hopefully people recognize that and want to support our team.”