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Niverville to Host Its Own Junior A Hockey Franchise

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Niverville Steering Committee: Bryan Trottier, Kevin Lansard, Jeremy Braun, Scott Wallace, Clarence Braun, Carl Fast, and Raymond Dowse. Cara Dowse

As Niverville’s brand-new Community Recreation and Resource Centre (CRRC) nears completion, along with its arena, the news can at last be told: Niverville will soon be home to its own Junior A hockey franchise.

The team’s inaugural season will be played at the CRRC as part of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s 2022–2023 season.

“Niverville is recognized as one of the fastest-growing communities in the province and the MJHL is thrilled to bring a new organization into this community, while adding another first-class and state-of-the-art facility to our league,” says MJHL Commissioner Kevin Saurette. “We have been in ongoing discussions with this group for a number of years and are very confident that the community-owned non-profit organization and the Town of Niverville will provide an ideal new home market for the MJHL moving forward.”

Saurette also makes a point to recognize the significant commitment and efforts of Clarence Braun and the rest of the management team who have been instrumental in helping to bring this franchise to Niverville.

“After some years of looking at the opportunity of entry into the league, I am proud that our efforts have come to this conclusion,” says Clarence Braun. “I want to thank the support of our growing numbers of shareholders who are investing for the benefit of this not-for-profit community venture.”

Braun adds that the Town of Niverville, including its council and administration, need to be thanked for being forward thinking in bringing about the construction of the CRRC.

“We are grateful for their support as we look forward to putting together a team we can all be proud of,” Braun says. “Lastly, thanks to former commissioner Kim Davis and to the present commissioner Kevin Saurette. We thank you for your support through this process. We will endeavour to provide a quality product on the ice that will bring honour and respect to the MJHL and to create the win-win scenario for players and for Niverville and the surrounding area.”

A Long Road

For a few of the key people behind today’s announcement, it’s been a long road getting here.

“The initial dialogue actually started with the MJHL about 15 years ago,” says Ray Dowse, who has been part of the project since its earliest days. “Back in 2007, I was part of a group of three people, including Clarence Braun and Kerry Church, who first introduced the former commissioner, Kim Davis, to Niverville, and some of the initiatives within our community. So that’s when we expressed our intent to someday have a team in town.”

At that time, Davis provided the nascent steering committee with details about the league, budgets, and a rough outline of what would be required to start a team.

“Without real plans for a new facility, though, it was more just making introductions, collecting preliminary information, and planting a seed,” says Dowse.

That seed took more than a decade to take a root. Eleven years later, that all-important piece of the puzzle—a new facility for a team to play in—took shape in the form of the CRRC.

In late 2018, the Town of Niverville announced a $5 million commitment to the CRRC project. At that time, the first phase of the Niverville High School was under construction and the outlook for a new recreation facility was very positive.

Although the CRRC was close to being green-lit, a key point of consideration involved how many seats would be installed in the new arena.

“Several town councillors attended a meeting together with Kim Davis and our small steering committee at a Boston Pizza in Winnipeg,” Dowse says. “The commissioner was clear that the league required a minimum of 1,000 seats in our arena for our community to receive approval for a team to operate here.”

The early plans for the arena included seating for approximately 600 spectators.

Following that meeting, and through additional dialogue with council, it was decided that additional space would be added to the plan in order to accommodate the installation of more bleachers to meet the MJHL’s minimum requirements.

Also in 2018, a fourth member was added to the steering committee in the person of Jeremy Braun. The following year, they were joined by Kevin Lansard.

In April 2019, the CRRC was made official with the announcement of federal grant funding, and the following month Kevin Saurette, current commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, attended the annual CRRC fundraising gala. He had been to Niverville on occasion and taken a tour of the facility’s future location.

“With an arena completion date in sight, our steering committee then moved our efforts into high gear,” says Dowse.

A Solid Plan

During construction of the CRRC, the steering committee has undertaken a significant amount of work.

First they incorporated as a non-profit, calling themselves Niverville Junior A Hockey Club Inc. and following a community ownership model. They drafted a set of team bylaws, put forward a retainer to complete the shareholder agreement, produced a team mission statement, and began to draft operating budgets.

In 2020, the final members of the steering committee stepped into place: Carl Fast, Bryan Trottier, and Scott Wallace.

“Our committee has been very fortunate to have had the support of both league commissioners, past and present, as well as past team owners, current team and league management, players, scouts, and hockey people in general,” Dowse says. “They’ve been willing to provide us with feedback that helped us develop a solid plan for a long-term franchise to operate in Niverville.”

Dowse adds that two individuals have been especially instrumental in this journey: Tom Kleyson, former owner of the Winnipeg South Blues, and Grant Lazaruk, current president and governor of the Steinbach Pistons.

“Both of these gentlemen have provided our steering committee with a tremendous amount of guidance,” says Dowse. “We are truly appreciative of their support and insight in helping to bring our Niverville MJHL dreams to reality.”

So what does it take to operate a junior hockey team? The Niverville franchise will have a preliminary annual budget of $650,000, but this doesn’t include start-up costs.

That’s a middle-of-the-road budget for an MJHL franchise.

Recruiting Shareholders

A key part of the process has been bringing on shareholders from the community. There are two key groups of shareholders, and Dowse says that both will be essential for the club.

“Class-A shareholders will assume the ongoing responsibilities for the team—operational and financial—and the board of directors will be selected from this group,” he says. “We anticipate there will be between 35 and 50 class-A shareholders with this organization.”

So far, the club has only reached out to potential class-A shareholders. There are already about 30 people who have made this commitment, and that number is expected to grow.

“Class-B shareholders are significant in that they help with the initial team start-up costs, but they will not have ongoing financial responsibilities other than initial share purchase,” Dowse adds.

Class-B shareholders will also have an option to participate on the many committees required for the team’s operation. The plan is to bring aboard approximately 200 class-B shareholders.

“There are many costs associated with a new team, as we have league fees, disbursal draft fees, equipment that needs to be purchased, and we have to hire people such as a general manager, coach, and support staff before we have revenue from team operations,” says Dowse. “In addition to that, there is a significant amount of work with volunteers, systems, processes, signing players, scouting, and so on. We have outlined timelines for everything, but now that we are officially accepted it becomes real.”

Next Steps

The next step will be to establish a board of directors, which is planned to occur this month. From that point, the board will begin to make decisions and set the course for the organization.

Other important upcoming steps include finalizing the team’s bylaws and shareholder agreements, working on systems and processes, making the initial hires, forming committees and volunteer groups, hosting fundraisers, purchasing equipment, and developing marketing and sales plans.

Then of course there’s the all-important hiring of a general manager and coach, which is expected to happen by November of this year. Once those people are in place, players can start to be signed early in the new year.

Naturally, the team will need a name, as well as sponsors. The initiative to identify a team name will kick off this September.

“It is a significant amount of work ahead,” Dowse concedes. “But as we determine responsibilities on the board, we can begin to establish different committees and volunteer groups to get a lot of people start working together in the lead-up to opening day. Many hands make light work!”

Community Involvement

Dowse adds that community involvement will be crucial over the next year as the organization puts all the pieces into place to drop the puck for the first time at the start of the 2022–2023 season.

One way in which the community can step up is to take the opportunity to billet a player, since many of the team’s players will come from across Manitoba and Canada, including some even from outside the country.

Those who choose to be billeting families will provide players with a stable and secure home away from home.

“We would love for residents to begin to think about that for themselves and their household,” Dowse says. “I know many friends of mine who played higher-level hockey and lived with billet families. To this day, they still have strong friendships with those families many years after their junior hockey days are behind them. These players become part of the family, and their billeting experience typically has a lasting impression.”

Dowse adds that this hockey club will have a profound effect on the community and the many people who choose to make Niverville home.

“We are looking to create an experience with this organization—players, management, fans, volunteers, and the community as a whole,” he says. “We want players who are part of this team to understand the impact the organization will have on the community, and the impact they as players have as role models to the many kids in sport and local minor hockey programs. But we as an organization also want to create a team and an environment where players are excited to be here and are able to excel and use their time here as a stepping stone to pursue their passion with hockey and develop life skills that will stay with them forever. It would be amazing to see kids who have played in Niverville go on to have opportunities at university, NCAA, or at the highest level of professional hockey. We’re excited to help create opportunities for these young athletes in our hometown, and hopefully we’ll also have the opportunity to see some local talent play for this team and pursue their hockey dreams close to home!”

The Manitoba Junior Hockey League is one of nine Junior A hockey leagues in Canada and is a proud member of the Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL). The MJHL exists to provide the best hockey development opportunities for players.

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