Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
QUESNEL, B.C. – Junior A hockey is coming back to the British Columbia city of Quesnel.
And that’s due in large part because of representatives from the Lhtako Dene Nation, which is located within Quesnel’s city limits.
The First Nation has teamed up with the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) for this year’s Road Show event, which will be staged Nov. 24 through Nov. 26 in Quesnel.
The last team to play out of the city was the Quesnel Millionaires, which operated as a BCHL franchise during the 2010-11 season. The club was sold in May of 2011 and relocated to Chilliwack. The squad continues to operate as the Chilliwack Chiefs.
For the Road Show, Cowichan Valley Capitals and the Victoria Grizzlies, two of the entrants in the BCHL, a Junior A circuit, will play a pair of regular season matches at the West Fraser Centre in Quesnel on Nov. 25 and then again on Nov. 26.
This marks the third time the BCHL’s Road Show has been held. League officials teamed up with Haisla First Nation to stage the inaugural event in 2020 in Kitimat. The Prince George Spruce Kings and Langley Rivermen participated in a pair of contests that year.
Road Show games, however, were not held in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the event returned last year when Lake Babine Nation helped co-ordinate two games in Burns Lake between the Spruce Kings and the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.
“The Road Show has become a great way for our league to work with passionate Indigenous communities across the province and to give our players, staff and fans an insight into their culture and traditions,” said BCHL commissioner Steven Cocker.
Maynard Bara, the Lhtako Dene Nation band administrator, said BCHL officials contacted his First Nation about five months ago to see if it would be interested in partnering for this year’s Road Show.
“They reached out to us and we said ‘absolutely’,” Bara said.
To Bara’s knowledge there are no efforts from Quesnel to acquire, either through expansion or relocation, a BCHL franchise. Or any Junior B team for that matter.
“We’re kind of in the middle of no man’s land,” Bara said, adding the city’s location would in all likelihood not be appealing to reps from Junior A or Junior B leagues.
Quesnel is located about 120 kilometres north of Williams Lake. And it’s also about 120 kilometres south of Prince George.
“We just wanted to provide the community a chance to see this level of hockey,” Bara said of the two BCHL matches.
Cocker is pleased the league is returning to Quesnel, albeit for just the two games this week.
“The community is already familiar with BCHL hockey having had the Millionaires as part of the league in the past,” he said. “But we are excited to show them how our league has grown since then.”
Bara said if you count those who live both on and off reserve, Lhtako Dene Nation has about 200 members. He expects the majority of these members will attend the two BCHL contests.
The West Fraser Centre has a seating capacity of about 1,500. Bara is hoping large crowds will attend both games.
As of Sunday, about 500 tickets had been sold for each of the matches.
The Road Show event also includes various other initiatives in the community.
On Nov. 24, a day before the first game is held, players from both the Capitals and Grizzlies will attend a local school to talk to students.
That will be followed by a community feast, a meal that will include salmon and caribou stew. Members of the Cowichan Valley and Victoria squads will be part of this event.
“Everyone is getting excited about that,” Bara said.
Plenty of interest is also being generated for a community skate that will be held at the West Fraser Centre on Nov. 25, between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Former pro player Geoff Courtnall, who played for six National Hockey League squads, including the Vancouver Canucks, will be available for autographs and photos at this event. Members of the Capitals and Grizzlies will also take part in the community skate.
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