The ice on the main rink at the Poirier Sport and Leisure Complex has barely melted and the general manager of the Coquitlam Express is already looking to the start of next season.
Thursday, the BC Hockey League team released its schedule for the 2022-23 campaign and Tali Campbell admits there are some challenges.
Foremost is a month-long absence from the local market. After opening the season with three straight home games, Sept. 23, 30 and Oct. 2, the Express hit the road for eight consecutive games, as well as the league’s showcase, where all the teams gather at one location for several games.
The team doesn’t return to Poirier until Nov. 2, for a midweek afternoon game against the Langley Rivermen.
Keep the fans engaged
Campbell said the long gap without local games means the Express will have to amplify its efforts to keep fans engaged through community initiatives and a strong presence on social media with things like behind-the-scenes stories.
“We’ll have to step our community game,” Campbell said.
The absence also puts the pinch on the Express’ annual awareness campaign for breast cancer that typically runs through the month of October and includes special pink jerseys worn by the players. Much of that effort will now be focused on the Oct. 2 game against the visiting Surrey Eagles.
As well, the league’s decision to extend its regular season schedule through the end of March has the potential to create conflicts with groups that are waiting for the ice to come out so they can use the concrete floor, especially if the Express go on an extended playoff run.
Campbell said there’s already been some conversations with the Coquitlam Adanacs about the possibility of overlaps, but a reverse conflict is also a possibility if the senior lacrosse team pushes for a Mann Cup, which is scheduled to be hosted by the Western Lacrosse Association’s champion in September.
“It’s a give-and-take situation,” Campbell said, adding both organizations understand they may have to begin training camp in one of Poirier’s secondary rinks, without access to their primary dressing room facilities.
Vinh Truong, Coquitlam’s recreation manager for arenas and aquatics, said the city works collaboratively with all user groups to ensure their needs are met.
“This allows us to consider playoff impacts, as well as scheduling for practices, games, tournaments and other special events as we allocate ice and dry floor time.”
Campbell said the schedule also presents opportunities.
School kids to fill the stands
The midweek afternoon game on Nov. 2 will see the rink filled with a couple thousand school kids, the resumption of an initiative to connect with younger fans that had to take a two-year pause because of the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on extracurricular activities at schools like field trips.
Campbell said in the past, the event has proven a big hit with the kids, but especially the players who love the fun, raucous atmosphere as the young crowd cheer every goal and hit.
As well, the team is returning to the Port Coquitlam Community Centre Dec. 3 for a “home game on the road” against the Surrey Eagles.
Campbell said last year’s visit to the new $132-million facility was a huge success, as all 800 tickets in the Jon Baillie arena sold out for the first event just as public health restrictions eased last February.
Provided there’s no significant resurgence of the COVID-19 contagion that results in a return of those restrictions, Campbell said PoCo fans can expect a day-long festival of events leading up the the 7 p.m. game against the Surrey Eagles.
A hockey team for the Tri-Cities
“Our whole hope with playing a game in Port Coquitlam is to show we are a Tri-City team,” Campbell said, adding there’s also been some discussions with Port Moody officials to increase the team’s profile in that city.
Long range, Campbell said, the Express would like to be able to host some sort of event at the Port Moody Recreation Centre, as well as possible visits to Queen’s Park Arena in New Westminster, Copeland Arena in Burnaby and even out to West Vancouver. He said the foundation for such an “on-the-road” program is already being laid with increased involvement in minor hockey associations in those communities.
“It’s a win-win situation,” Campbell said.
Now that the Express general manager knows the dates and opponents, he can now begin the real work of affixing them with special events and promotional efforts like theme nights and unique jerseys.
“We’re in the sports entertainment business and we’ve got to focus on the entertainment side,” Campbell said. “It’s our job to make sure the excitement continues to build.”
• The 2022-23 schedule for the Coquitlam Express is available on the team’s website.