Behold the Saanich Predators.
The 53-year-old junior B hockey team dropped its original Braves’ nickname and logo (an outdated profile image of an Indigenous man in headdress) this summer and ran a public campaign to rename the team.
The Predators branding and logo will follow on Sept. 29.
“We were excited and wanted to make the announcement first,” co-owner Norm Kelly said. “The branding and colours are coming.”
The nine-team Vancouver Island Junior B Hockey League is expected to start on Oct. 2. Teams will be broken into three cohorts of four, three, and two teams. Saanich will likely start in a cohort with the Westshore Wolves and Kerry Park Islanders.
“After a few weeks we’ll have a 14-day break and then switch to another cohort but right now we’re hoping things will eventually open up,” Kelly said. “Otherwise we’re just waiting and seeing.”
The decision to change the name actually started with the Saanich ownership group of Kelly and Ed Geric of Mike Geric Construction a few years ago.
They announced the Braves name and logo would be abandoned in the spring amid civil unrest for equity in the United States and protests in Canada.
The club shortlisted to three names, the Defenders, Squid and Predators. What many might not realize is that Predators carried a history as a minor hockey name in Victoria dating back 20 years.
Of course, the most significant tie between the Saanich name and the NHL Predators, the team Saanich is borrowing the name from, is Matt Irwin. The eight-year NHLer with the Anaheim Ducks played a full season for Saanich in 2004-05 before graduating to Nanaimo Clippers and the NCAA.
But Kelly never spoke to Irwin about the Predators name, he said.
“We had overwhelming texts and emails on the Predators from fans, from parents of players, and from players and ex-players,” Kelly said. “People are buying into it and are very excited about it.”
Back in 2002 when Kelly’s son Bryan was 14 years old, he wanted to play a tournament season for spring hockey and, with Geric’s son Adam, then 13, the two boys arranged it the first year, he said.
“We had two bantam-level spring teams for four years that used the predators jersey,” Kelly said. “Players came from all over the Island.”
For the first year, there was only one set of Victoria Predators home and away uniforms and the teams would have to swap them back and forth. The spring elite teams practised out of Fuller Lake and entered high-end elite tournaments coached by Geric and Kelly, specifically the Challenge Cup in Vancouver, an international AAA showcase for elite talent.
Several alumni from those four years were drafted into the NHL including Taylor Ellington (Vancouver Canucks, 2007) and the late Mitch Fadden (Tampa Bay Lightning, 2007) who died in 2017.
Protocols around COVID-19 are allowing hockey but are making organizing this year’s Predators roster complicated for head coach Brent Polischuk, Kelly explained. Ice time is already limited with Saanich’s Gold rink out of service until late spring at the Predators’ home – Pearkes Arena. The team practices on the Green rink and in the Wurtele rink at the CFB Esquimalt.
Games are at Pearkes but are not open to fans.
“Pearkes rink is capped to 50 people, so once each team has its players, coaches, the refs, the time-box and video staff inside, a rink attendant locks the doors,” Kelly said.
The other wrinkle is the annual ritual of holding roster spots for players who return from junior A camp.
“If they return they’ll have to isolate for 14 days before they can play for the Predators,” Kelly said.
Players will wear masks on the bench that come up from the neck.
“We told them, if you want to play hockey, take it serious,” Kelly said. “If you want to go to parties, you’re going to risk everyone on the team, so our guys are taking it pretty seriously.”
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