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Coquitlam Express schedule features some new twists

The Coquitlam Express opens its BC Hockey League season Sept. 20 against the Chilliwack Chiefs.
The Coquitlam Express opens its BC Hockey League schedule Sept. 20 when the Chilliwack Chiefs visit the Poirier Sport and Leisure Complex.

The Oilers are coming to Coquitlam’s Poirier Sport and Leisure Complex.

But there will be no visits from the Penticton Vees, Trail Smake Eaters, Cranbrook Bucks or West Kelowna Warriors.

In fact, the Coquitlam Express won’t play those BC Hockey League (BCHL) rivals at all in the 2024-25 regular season as the independent Junior "A" circuit further integrates into its schedule five teams that defected from the Alberta Junior Hockey League last February.

One of those teams, the Okotoks Oilers, will visit Poirier on Oct. 18 while Coquitlam travels to Alberta to play the Sherwood Park Crusaders and Blackfalds Bulldogs Feb. 21 and 22.

The Alberta teams, that also include the Brooks Bandits and Spruce Grove Saints, will participate in the league’s annual showcase as well, although details have yet to be announced.

Express general manager Tali Campbell said facing the new sides from Alberta presents challenges and opportunities as teams will have to endure longer road trips. On the flip side, players and fans will get to experience a different style of hockey from the Prairie squads.

“It will be interesting to see what they bring,” Campbell said. “They play a more rough, tough, less skilled brand of hockey.”

The Express opens its regular season schedule Sept. 20, at home against the Chilliwack Chiefs. The Cowichan Valley Capitals visit Poirier the next night.

Then Coquitlam heads north to Prince George for back-to-back games against the Spruce Kings on Sept. 27 and 28.

Prince George is now a Coastal Conference rival as the team has shifted over to accommodate the addition of the Alberta teams to the Interior Conference, which also lost the Merritt Centennials to the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League.

The Express will play the Fred Page Cup-champion Surrey Eagles five times in the coming season with their first meeting on Oct.30, the annual midweek noon game for local school kids.

The team’s first chance to avenge its first-round playoff loss to the Alberni Valley Bulldogs last April will be Oct. 26 in Port Alberni.

Ten home games will be played on Friday nights and nine are scheduled for Saturday nights. There will also be three games on Sunday afternoons.

The team wraps up its regular season at home Mar. 29 against the Victoria Grizzlies.

Campbell said while overall attendance for the Express last season was the best its ever been, crowds are still inconsistent from game to game. And with a season ticket base of less than 100, the pressure to create a buzz and win fans over to the value they get attending a game is ongoing.

Promotions like live music on the concourse will be back, as will perennial favourites like the Teddy Bear Toss and Score For Cancer, which not only boost the fun factor but also raise funds and awareness for good causes.

Campbell said the team’s birthday zones were a success last season so there will be more of them this season. As well, he’s planning some sort of sly cross promotion Dec. 8 when the Express host the Powell River Kings — the same day Taylor Swift is performing at BC Place.

Campbell said competing for entertainment dollars is especially challenging for the league’s four Lower Mainland teams.

“We’re not the big dog in town.” 

But the importance of gaining a foothold in such a competitive environment has only grown since the BCHL broke away from Hockey Canada just over a year ago. 

While the move has freed teams to recruit players from across Canada, as well as the United States and even Europe, it’s come with steep costs.

The Express is currently tripling the size of its office space across Poirier St. to incorporate a 3,300 sq. ft. training gym, lounge and change rooms. The team has also purchased a new bus.

As well, BCHL teams have had to set up a whole new network of development teams, also apart from Hockey Canada, to cultivate prospective future players. Coquitlam’s HC program now operates U18, U17, U15 and U14 teams in conjunction with School District 43 so young players can continue their education at nearby Centennial and Port Moody secondary schools while they pursue their hockey ambitions.

And while fees sustain the development program and even help support the BCHL team, the administrative demands are considerable, Campbell said.

It’s all about giving players and their families the best experience of their hockey careers so far and their best chance to succeed on and off the ice, he added.

WHL returns to Port Coquitlam

The Vancouver Giants and Victoria Royals will play two pre-season games Sept. 7 and 8 at the John Baillie Arena in the Port Coquitlam Community Centre.

The first game coincides with the city’s second annual Car Free Day on nearby McAllister Avenue.

“We can’t wait to welcome fans for an exhilarating day of hockey and car-free festivities,” said Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West in a news release.

Details for ticket sales will be announced soon.