The 2012-13 season will be the last for the Penticton Lakers in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League.
Andy Oakes, president of the Okanagan Hockey Academy/School, advised the league during a meeting earlier this month that they are looking to sell the franchise. Regardless of how long it takes to find a suitor, the OHA will not operate the Lakers next season. The OHA had moved the team when it was the Summerland Sting to Penticton for the 2009/10 season.
“I was quite surprised they were selling,” said KIJHL president Bill Ohlhausen, adding the league has to accept the OHAs decision.
Ohlhausen is confident that the KIJHL will be able to find a home for the Lakers franchise and remain a 20-team circuit.
“We always have a number of towns interested,” said Ohlausen, who liked having a team in Penticton. “We have a franchise committee that talks to people.”
Oakes said as an organization they have been looking at their core businesses. What they do and what they should be focusing in on.
“The two junior teams, the Alberni team and then the Lakers have come out as areas of the business that don’t fit into the core being of our academy or our hockey school business,” he said.
The OHA sold the Alberni Valley Bulldogs to a community partnership in Alberni Valley during the summer. Oakes said they didn’t begin pursuing a sale of the Lakers until mid-September. The OHA has spoken to a few unnamed communities in the area with a desire to grow a hockey identity.
Oakes is not disappointed with the Lakers and said they have served “a good purpose here for the player base over the years, even when they were the Sting.”
“The development ladder for players to go from midget to junior B where they hopefully move onto junior A or major junior has been a good ladder for us,” he said. “Business wise, junior B is very, very difficult, even very hard to generate the revenue to pay your bills in any given year. For us it’s really a business decision around the Lakers. It has nothing to do with the league or developmental model. We’ve been fans of the league and development model for a long time.”
When a deal is finalized, and Oakes said a goal for that is before the end of the season, the players won’t be part of the deal. Oakes said having the franchise sold before the end of the season gives the new ownership group a chance to be successful with recruiting efforts. Whichever community decides to purchase the Lakers will “get almost like an expansion franchise.” The players will become free agents, which they are aware of.
Lakers coach Robert Dirk’s employment will not be impacted by the sales as he is an employee of the OHA.
“Just because it goes doesn’t mean I do,” he said. “I understand from a business standpoint.”
From the hockey standpoint, Dirk has enjoyed coaching the Lakers and said the situation is unfortunate. However, Dirk added that the community that gets the Lakers is getting something special.
“It’s something pretty neat,” he said.
Dirk is motivated to get the Lakers into the playoffs and make the deepest playoff run possible. He added though, that’s not the only factor in how they determined success for their team
“We look at it by how many guys are able to play at a higher level next year,” he said.
The OHA is planning for September of 2013 with the intention of expanding the program with another team.
“Our initial thoughts are a second female team,” said Oakes.
The OHA has an idea of building off the success of their midget team that plays in the Junior Women’s Hockey League. In 12 games this season, the OHA has won five of 11 games and are four points out of first. More importantly, they have three players that will play for Team Canada.
“We just had 11 of our 18 players play for their provinces in the under-18 national championship here (Dawson Creek) last week,” “There’s a lot of growth and demand on the female side.”