Team History

Trail and Cranbrook captains Coalson Wolford and Rhys Bentham are pictured with Breanne and Nathan Lieuwen before the Bucks first-ever home game. (Photo supplied by the Cranbrook Bucks)

The Cranbrook Bucks were announced as a BC Hockey League expansion franchise on Oct. 8, 2019, during a media conference held at Western Financial place in Cranbrook.

Just a few months prior, the departure of the Western Hockey League’s Kootenay Ice to Winnipeg, MB, left Cranbrook without a junior hockey team.

Former Ice Goaltender Nathan Lieuwen, who had recently retired from playing professionally and moved back to Cranbrook where he worked as a video and goalie coach with the Ice, was determined to bring junior hockey back to the Key City — and he did just that.

During the October 2019 announcement of the team, Lieuwen unveiled himself as the team president and majority owner, and began the process of building the brand new BCHL team.

Some of Lieuwen’s early tasks included selling season tickets, recruiting players, and hiring a staff to work with.

On Jan. 27, 2020, forward Noah Leibl became the first committed player in franchise history — followed by many more in the coming months.

During a virtual press conference held March 24, 2020, Lieuwen introduced Ryan Donald as the Bucks first head coach and general manager.

As the Bucks continued to prepare for their inaugural season, they were able to hold successful rookie and main camps despite some COVID-19 restrictions.

Following training camp, Cranbrook began its first exhibition season. The Bucks inaugural preseason was dubbed the 2020 Extended Exhibition Season, where they played in a four-team cohort with the Trail Smoke Eaters, Merritt Centennials, and Prince George Spruce Kings.

Cranbrook played played its first exhibition game on Oct. 3, 2020 in Trail, falling 7-4 to the Smoke Eaters. The Bucks would go on to play nine games during the preseason, going 3-5-1 in its first two months of exhibition play.

The 2020-21 BCHL regular season was slated to begin in early December, but a slew of COVID-19 restrictions prevented the league from holding any sort of competition through March of 2021.

During this time, many players left the BCHL in pursuit of playing games in leagues south of the border, and the Bucks lost nine players from their exhibition season roster.

In April, the league was able to begin its regular season in a pod format, with 16 of its 18 franchises participating, and being split into five pods around the province.

Each team was granted 20 regular season games during the 2020-21 Pod Season, and there were no playoffs.

The Bucks and Smoke Eaters travelled to Penticton to join the Vees in a three-team pod, with their 20 games being evenly split between opponents.

Cranbrook played its first-ever regular season game on Apr. 3, 2021, losing 6-3 to powerhouse Vees.

The next day, the Bucks picked up the first win in franchise history, beating Trail by a 5-3 count.

After having to replace over one-third of its roster prior to the pod season, and having one-third of its players in the pod suffer injuries, the inaugural regular season did not go as planned for Cranbrook. The Bucks won just three of their 20 games, going 3-16-1 in the 2020-21 Pod Season.

Cranbrook spent the summer recruiting some new weapons for the 2021-22 season, and opened up a competitive training camp prior to the exhibition season.

During preseason play, the Bucks went undefeated in four games — three against Trail, and one against the Wenatchee Wild.

Cranbrook wrapped up its exhibition season with a showcase game against Canada’s National Women’s Team, who was preparing for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.

The Bucks capped a strong preseason by beating team Canada 8-3 in front of a 50% capacity sellout of 2,350 fans at Western Financial Place.

Cranbrook opened the 2021-22 regular season on Oct. 8 by hosting the rival Smoke Eaters in the first regular season game on home ice — once again infront of 2,350 fans.

The Bucks beat the Smoke Eaters that night by the same 5-3 score as their first-ever regular season win back in April.

The Bucks have enjoyed a successful second season in the BCHL, albeit the first that includes home games and seeing all 17 of their BCHL opponents.

Stay tuned to Bucks Network as Cranbrook continues to write its team history — which is only just beginning!

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