After four seasons under the bright lights of the Abbotsford Centre, the Fraser Valley Thunderbirds of the British Columbia Elite Hockey League (formerly U18 AAA) have moved out and are searching for a new permanent base of operations.
The Thunderbirds did have office space and occupied one of the larger dressing rooms in Abbotsford Centre, but now with the Abbotsford Canucks as the building’s primary tenant (and in control of the building), the minor hockey team has moved everything out of the building and were provided a space in the back lot to place a container to use as storage.
Thunderbirds general manager Darrin Ponak said it was a little bittersweet to leave the Abbotsford Centre, but that he’s grateful that the Canucks have been accommodating in allowing the building to still be the team’s home rink.
He said many of the team’s games and practices will still occur at Abbotsford Centre.
“Because the Canucks are primarily a daytime practice user group and we are an evening weekday user group, we pretty much will have all of our practices at the AC this season,” he said. “We have done the best we can to arrange our home games on days the Canucks aren’t playing (Saturdays/Sundays). Where there are unavoidable conflicts we will use Abbotsford city arenas.”
Ponak said the Thunderbirds also have a date pencilled in for January 2022 which will see BC Hockey brings its annual U18 Showcase event to the Abbotsford Centre. This would feature all 10 teams in the BCEHL coming to town.
Statement from @abbycanucks COO @RobMullowney related to other tenants in @AbbyCentre. Sounds like the @FVTBirdsU18 have a good chance of staying.— Ben Lypka (@BenLypka) September 28, 2021
According to him, the @FV_Bandits had already made the decision to move to Langley before discussions began.
Story coming soon pic.twitter.com/yrqJkWLV6B
Rob Mullowney, the Chief Operating Officer of the Abbotsford Canucks, said the organization has developed a great working relationship with the Thunderbirds.
“They [Thunderbirds] are committed for this season, and we hope for many more,” he said.
Mullowney also said the Canucks had positive conversations with the Fraser Valley Bandits, who announced they will be moving to Langley on Sept. 23. He said the goal was to have both the Bandits and the Thunderbirds continue to call the Abbotsford Centre home, but the Bandits had already decided to move to Langley by the time discussions got serious.
“We wish them well and look forward to seeing them continue to grow their basketball fanbase in the Fraser Valley,” he said of the Bandits.
Ponak said the next challenge now is finding a home base for the Thunderbirds.
“Here in the Fraser Valley there are limited arenas that can host a team/program,” he said. “All of the arenas are maxed out with older small change rooms. There could be some options at the Coliseum in Chilliwack as we have a good relationship with the Chiefs, but our geographic size (Langley to Chilliwack) is prohibitive for parents to be driving five times per week.”
He said his ultimate dream would be for the MSA Arena to be turned into a quadplex, which could provide a home for both the Thunderbirds and the Junior B Abbotsford Pilots.
The Thunderbirds U18 AAA team opened the season in Kelowna with a 4-3 win over the Okanagan Rockets on Sept. 25 and followed that up with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Rockets on Sept. 26.
The home opener for the team occurs on Sunday, Oct. 3 when the Greater Vancouver Canadians come to the Abbotsford Centre. Face-off is set for 12:45 p.m.
For more on the team, visit fvthunderbirds.com.
Goal Highlights Sat Sept 25 vs OK Rockets 4-3 Win pic.twitter.com/GVERIsSWYf— FV Thunderbirds U18 AAA (@FVTBirdsU18) September 28, 2021