It took some hammering, with both sides doing their darnedest to protect their best interests.
In the end, the Victoria Grizzlies and the West Shore Parks and Recreation Society came to an agreement that lays the groundwork for keeping the team in Colwood for at least the next five years.
On Tuesday the B.C. Hockey League club signed a lease deal for The Q Centre that gives them cost certainty and allows the team to focus on finding ways to boost attendance.
While terms of the five-year agreement were not disclosed, both team and society spokespeople indicated the deal was a compromise for each party.
“The agreement is not precisely what we wanted, but it’s done now and it’s time to play hockey,” said Grizzlies team president John Wilson.
“We’re glad to be able to have our focus on the ice and not at the boardroom table. We never had any doubt that we were going to have a team here in the fall. Moving forward, we have a great group of kids coming in this season and we’re expecting a strong squad.”
Rob Martin, Colwood councillor and board chair for the society, admitted some tough negotiations went on in the past couple of months.
“I think we were on the same page, but obviously it’s never a profitable business to be in junior hockey,” he said. With the team trying to control costs as much as possible and West Shore Parks and Recreation conscious of the public purse, he said, it took some give and take to reach an agreement.
“I think we found a very happy medium which allows the Grizzlies to continue to operate and hopefully have a path to financial viability and not put the taxpayers of the West Shore at risk.”
During the past couple of months, Wilson said, the Grizzlies club has received community encouragement from a variety of businesses and individuals. Not only did that support give them the will to keep coming back to the table with West Shore Parks and Recreation, he said, it has created positive connections to help put more fans in the seats.
“We’re very humbled and appreciative of the community for showing their support for the Grizzlies during this trying time,” he said.
Wilson acknowledged that the South Island is a tough sports market to compete in, but he remains optimistic that with new marketing personnel on board and new partnerships being made in the community, the West Shore will continue to support the team.
“Hockey is Canada’s sport and people are drawn to it in droves,” he said. “I think we had five or six local players on our team last year and we’ll probably have the same this year.”
He added that nine players from last year’s team have secured college scholarships, a number he believes is a high for Junior A teams in Canada.
The Grizzlies are one of 17 teams in the BCHL – Wenatchee Wild will begin play next season – and have been in existence as a franchise since 1994, when they were the Victoria Salsa. They were renamed the Grizzlies in 2006 when Len Barrie was part of the ownership group and the team was playing out of what was then Bear Mountain Arena. Barrie sold majority interest in the team in 2012 to Ron Walchuk and Vancouver Island Sports and Entertainment Ltd., who later brought in more community owners, including Wilson.