Friday, 23 August 2013

It's Go-Time For the Lethbridge Hurricanes!

It's been said many times before that change is a good thing.

Well, if there's one word to sum up this off-season for the Lethbridge Hurricanes, "change" is certainly it! From hockey operations staff to branding, it's been quite the off-season of change for this WHL team and with that, I think it's brought with it a lot of excitement and anticipation as the Hurricanes get set for training camp August 29th at the ENMAX Centre.

After four consecutive seasons of not making the playoffs, something had to be done. Shortly after last season ended, the Canes Board of Directors fired the first shot in what would be the start of this ongoing change. Rich Preston was relieved of his duties as Head Coach and GM, after a total of only 100 victories over 4 seasons. With that came the promotion of long-time Assistant GM Brad Robson to the role of General Manager and has he ever put his mark on this organisation in a huge way.

After taking time to concentrate on the WHL bantam draft in May, Robson soon after turned his focus to finding a new Head Coach. More than 80 applications later, Robson hired former NHLer Drake Berehowsky as the new bench boss. He brings a wealth of experience on the ice as a player and coaching the last few years. Not too long after that, Robson announced Matt Kabayama's contract would not be renewed, opening the door to the hiring of a new Assistant Coach and with that, Robson headed back to the NHL ranks, locking up former Stanley Cup champion Brad Lukowich to work alongside Berehowsky on the bench.

With two former NHL defenceman now running the show, that left one more coaching vacancy which was recently filled by the hiring of former NHLer Mike Craig, who will be the guy to help mold the forwards on this team this season.  Really, an incredible 180 degree flip from what this team has had in the past. And with this has come a renewed excitement. People have been bending my ear for weeks now about the changes on the bench and what that will be mean for the club. Accountability and discipline will be two things the players on this team will have to contend with when they come to camp on August 29th. Robson has said the players have been told by both himself and the new coaches to be ready for camp, come in shape, and be ready to be pushed.

Berehowsky, Lukowich, and Craig not only bring excellent hockey experience, but they also bring a youthful touch to the coaching ranks of this team. It certainly is the start of a new era of Lethbridge Hurricanes hockey, one I haven't seen since the first year I started broadcasting for this team in 2007-2008.

To cap off the coaching staff, the Canes are bringing back Jeff Battah to mentor the goaltenders. Battah was the guy in charge when Juha Metsola emerged in the 2007-2008 season, taking the Hurricanes all the way to the league final. Battah is well-respected when it comes to coaching goalies in Western Canada.

That's not the only change either! Sandwiched in between all the hockey personnel changes was the unveiling of a new logo, brand, and look for the hockey club. It's a brand the club can call it's own and one the organisation is excited about moving forward. Something they hope will not only catch on with the fans, but a brand they can stick with for several seasons to come.

So yes, I'm excited about the potential for this coming hockey season for the Hurricanes. More so than the past few years. In fact I told GM Brad Robson the other day there's an excitement around the team this year I haven't felt in a while. There are much higher expectations now with this group and I think the coaching staff will bring a whole new style to the on-ice product.

There's no doubt there is pressure to win and win consistently this season. Missing the post-season four years in a row is tough to swallow for a fan base in need of a little playoff hockey. Getting off to a strong start will be important for this new regime. If the players, new and old buy into what Coach Berehowsky and his staff and selling, I think this is going to be a pretty fun group to watch this season. I think we will see a new attitude, systems, accountability, style of play, work ethic with this coaching staff in charge. Sit back and enjoy the ride Hurricanes fans. A new on-ice era starts August 29th!



  1. I for one like all of the changes. There was need for improvement on the ice and the new direction should bring that. The new coaches have some pretty impressive championships to their names, Memorial Cups and a Stanley Cup. The new logo is simple and striking.

    One change I am hoping to see is the elimination of the lazy and stupid retaliatory penalties. If this happens I think you will see a very competitive team and playoffs for the first time in four years!

    Pilon, Duke,Henry and others have enough skill to excel in the league.

    Go Canes, this season should be exciting!

  2. Well written Pat! It will be interesting to witness what the players are going to learn in the way of defensive zone play, power-play, and penalty killing. Drake and Brad L. have both expressed being accountable both on and off the ice. I also look forward to watching the coaching staff actually interact with the players on the bench (instruction, pats on the back, etc.) while the game goes on. The coaching staff is pumped and apparently the players are!

    Looking forward to the season!

    Dump n' Chase

  3. You got to be kidding....must be an incorrect tweet or Pat S. is pulling our collective legs. AUDITIONS FOR CHEERLEADERS! From a season ticket holder's perspective, I was looking forward to all the changes. Finally after 4 years of absolute futility we now have 4 professionals running the hockey operations of this club. But someone in the business operations has come up with the idea of CHEERLEADERS. I do not know who is behind this piece of brilliance, but he/she needs to be reminded that this is NOT, the USA; this is not high school, college football or basketball, it is not the CFL,NFL or the NBA. This is Canada, this is hockey and there is no place for CHEERLEADERS in the rink. Who is going to train them? Who is going to pay for their skimpy uniforms? Where are they going to do their "thing"? When are they going to do their "thing"? I can hear the complaints now about them blocking the isles during stoppage of play from people who are blocked from going to the washroom, snacks or more importantly beer. Please, please put a stop to this nonsense before it does its first hand stand.
    You want people in the stands? Wins, wins and a very entertaining and competitive team will do that way before the CANETTES!

    Stop the madness!

    Dump'n Chase

  4. Have you been to an Oiler game they have a dance team. Not just happening in the US.

    Now if Edomton could only get a hockey team!

    otherwise my wife won't let me go to games ha ha lol.
    Seriously though we don't need that crap here :)


  6. I have to agree this is a ridiculous idea! We don't care about that here. We just want a good hockey game. Put your sponsorship dollars to work in better ways.


  7. Hi Pat,

    I just want to take a moment to reply to the dance team comments.

    Firstly, I don't know if there is any other team in the WHL that has a core fan base as passionate about their team as the Hurricanes have. All the fans that comment on the blogs, good or bad, they show they care by taking time out of their day to talk about the Hurricanes.

    Let me try and answer some of the questions brought up by Dump n' Chase. Anyone who registers to audition for the dance team will be provided a dance routine that they will need to learn and dance for the audition. This will allow us to make sure that we are only auditioning girls who can dance. The dance team will consist of eight girls who will be trained by local professional cheer team coaches. They will be tastefully dressed in yoga pants with a fitted type jersey.

    I'm like you Dump n' Chase, a hockey purest. Five years ago I would have scoffed at the idea of a dance team at a hockey game, but times have changed and we need to provide more entertainment value around the hockey game. I remember going to the first Bronco's game in 1974, when Loren Molleken was the starting goaltender for the Broncos and Trottier and Brian Sutter were the offensive leaders. Back then all you needed was an organ and a 50/50 draw to keep the fans entertained outside of the game.

    We have discussed with the cheer coaches what the best approach for the dance team to engage with the fans while trying not to be disruptive, and they are working on a plan.

    To my knowledge there is only one other team in the Western league with a dance team. We are trying to show the league that we are innovative and willing to take some risks. There are dance/cheer teams throughout the NHL, including in Edmonton. A common complaint about Hurricanes games is that the building is too quiet, and it's been a quiet building since the beginning (outside of a few playoff games). Our players feed off the energy of the crowd and we need to find ways to keep our fans engaged throughout the game.

    If anyone has questions feel free to email me directly at or post here. I'm always happy to answer questions.

    Neil Fraser
    Sales Director
    Lethbridge Hurricanes Hockey Club

  8. Quite the argument put up by you Neil. Oh are you speaking for the club again? But that aside, on one hand you state the fans are passionate about their Hurricanes, and on the other hand they are too quiet. Those statements seem to contradict each other. Never mind 1974, let's turn the clock ahead to the last 4 seasons. What have the loyal (1400 season ticket holders or thereabouts) had to cheer about? To get passionate about? I take you back to the first half of last season, when the team was in a battle for the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference. When the kids came off the ice after a great period, or a great effort in the game, they received a thunderous round of cheers, most fans standing. It ended with the horrific collapse in the second half, which saw them fall right out of the playoff picture. Is the building too quiet? Only when the team has played poorly (like the last 4 years with no guidance). I stand by what I said, winning hockey, exciting hockey, will bring the passion level up. Gimmicks do not = passion. You mentioned wanting to be innovative. The definition of innovative is designing something new. The idea of cheerleaders/dancers is not new. There are numerous teams in the USA and two (Barrie Colts/ Niagara Ice Dogs) in the OHL that have cheerleaders. In fact the Colts cheerleaders were subjected to sexual taunts and harassment when at a game in Windsor. Does the Lethbridge Hurricane Hockey Club want to take that risk and leave their cheerleaders/dancers open to such taunts, especially when some of the fans of a certain team visit the Enmax? there a cost for this "innovative" risk? Who is paying for the professional cheer coaches? Who is paying for the outfits?
    As a long time season ticket holder, I would be surprised if I was the lone voice in the woods speaking out against cheerleaders/dancers at all Hurricane home games. I certainly do not want them "dancing" their way up and down my aisle during stoppages of play.

    You want noise? You want passion? You will not get that because of the Canettes prancing up and down the aisles. You will get it with a winning, entertaining, hard working hockey club. Something that most fans are looking forward to this season. Would fans cheer more often or louder because of the Canettes, maybe a few young kids, but not the hard core hockey fans.
    Compromise......let the first half of the season go by and if we are still sitting on our hands, bring in the Canettes. Risk, yes there is a risk of alienating season ticket holders. I can't wait for the AGM and someone bringing up the issue of cheerleaders/dancers.

    Dump'n Chase

  9. We have a sponsor on board which will offset the cost of the uniforms and have worked an agreement with the dance team coaches that we will help to promote their brand. The out of pocket expense for the dance team will be minimal. We look at the dance team as an asset to help market the Hurricanes and bring new fans to a game.

    You hit the nail on the head, when you say "maybe a few young kids" will cheer louder. If at the end of the game we have kids (and adults) leaving saying they had fun and they were cheering regardless of how the team played and the outcome, then we have done our job. I admit that there will be people who won't want the dance team in the building, but I feel that will be a small percentage. We will do our best to make sure the dance team does not interfere with the game.

    Gimmicks are not unique to the Hurricanes to help sell tickets. All sports teams rely on gimmicks to help bring people in to the building and have an enjoyable time so they come back. Season ticket sales at the amateur and professional level have been in decline. Cost of the ticket does play into that decline, but the time commitment to attend a majority of the games seems to be more of an issue. We need to look at ways to get new fans into the building. Our mantra is; get 'em in, move 'em up. We need to turn the casual fan in to a hardcore fan, and to achieve that we have to provide a fun atmosphere that they want to come back to and eventually commit to purchasing a season ticket regardless of how the team has played or the outcome. That is how we grow this business.

    Neil Fraser
    Sales Director
    Lethbridge Hurricanes Hockey Club

  10. Casual fans enjoy the pomp and circumstance of the game. Howling announcers and inane contests are the bane of guys like me, who are ONLY there for the hockey, but you won't make much money marketing to old grumps like me.
    The cheerleading teams at the U of L Pronghorn basketball games have been fairly innocuous and entertaining. In Charlotte, the Checkmates dance team does a lot of charity work and the women who perform have become staples of the game. While North Carolina is not "Hockey's home" let's face it, neither is Lethbridge.

    Dylan (back on Patty's blog!)

  11. While I am unsure what the sales director has to do with the promotions and gimmicks used during the game (do they not have a promotions person for promotions and a sales person for sales?) I do appreciate a reply from the club.

    We feel that the Hurricanes are completely missing the boat when it comes to getting the fans engaged. I must say that even when all hope was lost last season the fans continued to cheer loud for the players, did the wave and applauded their efforts. I am not sure where Mr. Fraser sits during the game but where we sit it was still a loud and appreciative crowd when it came to the players. The section that calls themselves Heckler's Row added some much needed life to the west side of the building. Why is the club not encouraging this type of thing by promoting a booster club or special offers to those in the Heckler's Row gang so their group grows and fills the building? That to me seems a better way to engage the fans than having cheerleaders in the aisles. We have to agree with Dump'n Chase on this one. You can't call yourself innovative when you are just copying an idea that is already being done in the league.

    Now with all that aside, we are very excited to get this new season underway. I have a feeling it is going to be a great year for these young lads.



  12. Hi -cc...fair comments for sure.

    Our sales department often works with the client to develop and execute a promotion. In the case of the dance team, it was the client who had the idea back in December. My responsibility to the client and organization is to determine if the promotion is feasible, both financially and logistically. We also see potential in how we can use the dance team to help market the team to the casual fan who instead of coming to 1 or 2 games a year they now come to 5 to 10, then buy a season ticket.

    You are absolutely right that Heckler's Row added much life to the building, no doubt about that! We have talked with Heckler's Row last season about helping us on a project. I like the idea of the Booster Club. I remember the Broncos having a Booster Club back in the day. That is definitely something that I will take away from your comments and look into the feasibility.

    I said it before, this will be unlike any other season of major junior hockey in Lethbridge in the past 39 years. You can feel the excitement and energy and we can't wait to get things going on September 20th.

    Neil Fraser

  13. Fraser, you know you ran around the concourse in those awful "Bronco Booster Club" shirts with the bright green sleeves. Pretty sure I was using the Silver Auto seats for many of those games, too.
    Good times back then. I look forward to seeing the dance team idea and I have a hunch some kind of kids booster club or outreach is another idea on the docket...


  14. Can I just say that using Hecker's row as an example is exactly reinforcing the point for some sort of idea such as this. Nothing is ever set in stone and I can guarantee that if the sponsor decides it's not worth his / her investment then the cheerleaders will have a short existence. That being said, I am all for any and all attempts to get the Enmax to a place where those "fans of a certain team" feel much more uncomfortable in our building than they do now. Right now its like they take the place over.

    Winning hockey in the end is what we all want to see, but in the stoppages, a little entertainment won't hurt things.