Release the Kraken!
The Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League is expanding to Lake Cowichan for the 2021-22 season, and its newest franchise will share a name with the newest addition to the NHL.
The Lake Cowichan Kraken will join the junior B circuit this fall along with the Port Alberni Bombers, expanding the league from nine teams to 11.
“The League is extremely pleased with its two newest partners,” VIJHL president Simon Morgan stated. “They provide solid hockey backgrounds and a focus on the development of players and their communities. These two new teams will infuse additional excitement in the League and some new rivalries for both our North and South Vancouver Island communities.”
The man bringing junior B hockey back to Lake Cowichan after a decades-long absence is Luke Armstrong. Although he lives in the Fraser Valley, he has a strong attachment to Vancouver Island and the Cowichan Valley.
“We spend a lot of time in the Cowichan Valley,” he said. “And the suggestion came up and we landed on that.”
The Cowichan Lake Arena opened in 1969 and underwent a significant $7.6-million renovation in 2009.
“We’re quite excited about the venue,” Armstrong said. “They’ve done a lot of renovations and upgrades. It’s a beautiful facility; perfect for this level of hockey.”
Armstrong was looking at putting a team in either the Cowichan Lake or Fuller Lake arenas, and settled on Cowichan Lake because the Cowichan Valley Regional District was so helpful with the process. He describes himself as a hockey “enthusiast” — he played minor hockey, but that was the extent of his playing career and involvement in the sport until now.
Although the team’s moniker evokes the Seattle Kraken, who will begin play in the NHL this fall, Armstrong was also thinking of Cowichan Lake’s own legendary monster, the Stin’Qua.
“There was talk of a mythical creature in Cowichan Lake,” the owner said. “So we played along with that as well.”
The Kraken will join a handful of other VIJHL teams with NHL-related nicknames, including the Kerry Park Islanders, Saanich Predators and Peninsula Panthers.
“A lot of teams in developmental leagues take names from the NHL,” Armstrong noted.
Lake Cowichan Mayor Bob Day is thrilled to see competitive junior hockey back in town.
“There are so many great things happening in and around Lake Cowichan, and the news of the arrival of a junior B hockey team is a dream come true, especially for our young hockey families,” he said. “I am looking forward to meeting the Lake Cowichan Kraken team and its officials but most of all, supporting them in the stands.”
The first head coach and general manager of the Lake Cowichan Kraken is 35-year-old Ray Tremblay, who played his junior B hockey in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League with the Sicamous Eagles and Beaver Valley NiteHawks between 2004 and 2007, then played NCAA Div. III hockey, followed by a professional career in the Federal Hockey league and France’s third division. Tremblay was the head coach of the Federal Prospects Hockey League in 2019-20, guiding the club to a 26-18-3 record before the season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Kerry Park Islanders, who will be the Kraken’s closest geographic rival, are excited to have another VIJHL team nearby.
“It will be a good rivalry and good development for local kids,” said Isles owner and head coach Brandon Cox.
Kerry Park plays in the VIJHL’s South Division with four teams from Greater Victoria, while the North Division consists of teams from Nanaimo, Oceanside, Comox Valley and Campbell River. It has not been announced yet how the divisions will align with the addition of Lake Cowichan and Port Alberni.
The league’s other owners have been “very supportive” of Armstrong’s initiative.
“I’ve been on a few committee meetings with other owners, so I’ve gotten to know them as much as you can through Zoom calls,” he said. “They’ve been very accommodating as well.”
Armstrong wants to field a team in the first year that will contend right along with the established clubs.
“I think we’ll come out of the gate in our first season with a competitive team,” he said. “It’s our goal to bring competitive hockey to Lake Cowichan.”
VIJHL teams played just a handful of games without fans in the stands last fall before abandoning the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 restrictions. According to league president Morgan, the VIJHL season appears to be coming together for a typical regular season beginning in September 2021.