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Okanagan Knights franchise sold, relocated to Quesnel

Lone Sheep Publishing
By Lone Sheep Publishing
April 4th, 2024

The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League continues to shuffle the deck chairs on a Junior Hockey League following the announcement that the North Okanagan Knights franchise has been sold and relocated to Quesnel.

The Quesnel-based hockey club will now be known as the River Rush.

The sale and move was approved unanimously by the KIJHL’s Board of Governors and will take effect immediately.

“The KIJHL is thrilled to be involved in the return of Junior A hockey to Quesnel,” says KIJHL commissioner Jeff Dubois in a media statement on the league website.

“We’ve been so excited to see the passion and enthusiasm that has been building throughout this process and we can’t wait to experience the incredible atmosphere when the team hits the ice this fall.”

The news comes as the KIJHL prepares to host its Teck Cup Final, beginning Friday in Revelstoke between the Grizzlies and Fernie Ghostriders.

Game two of the best-of-seven series goes Saturday at the Forum before the series shifts to the East Kootenay for Games three and four Monday and Tuesday.

The KIJHL said the addition of the River Rush, the geographic footprint expands a further 120 kilometres north and provides the Cariboo with a third franchise in addition to the 100 Mile House Wranglers and Williams Lake Mustangs.

The River Rush will be owned and operated by local businessman Tracy Mero, who has previously been the principal owner of the Kamloops Storm since 2019.

Part of the KIJHL’s approval process for the sale and relocation to Quesnel involved the sale of the Kamloops franchise from Mero to longtime Storm president and governor Matt Kolle.

The River Rush will play out of the 1,300-seat West Fraser Centre, which was built in 2017 and will immediately become a premier facility in the KIJHL.

“As a hockey parent and coach, it’s always been a dream of mine to bring locally-owned Junior A hockey back to Quesnel,” says River Rush owner Tracy Mero in the KIJHL statement.

“I’ve seen the passion from this community over the years and I know how badly parents and kids have wanted to see higher calibre hockey back in this town so that players can stay and play close to home. We have a talented group of board members behind this franchise and so many great ideas to bring exciting events to Quesnel and make this team a success. We’re honoured to bring this dream alive for everyone and to collaborate with all our local clubs. See you on the ice!”

The first member of Quesnel’s hockey operations staff is Dale Hladun, who has been hired as the team’s Head Coach and General Manager.

Hladun brings extensive KIJHL coaching and management experience to the River Rush, as he has previously held similar roles with the Princeton Posse (2005-2013), Fernie Ghostriders (2013-2014) and 100 Mile House Wranglers (2014-2024). In 2016, he led the Wranglers to KIJHL, Cyclone Taylor Cup (B.C. Provincial) and Keystone Cup (Western Canadian) championships.

“I’m thrilled with the opportunity Mr. Mero and his organization have provided me to return to Quesnel and be a part of the River Rush hockey club,” says Hladun, who coached with the BCHL’s Millionaires in the late 1990s.

“I firmly believe the Quesnel River Rush will run a first class operation for players, our fan base and the north Cariboo, and that this organization will evolve to be among the flagship programs in the KIJHL.”

The North Okanagan Knights joined the KIJHL in 2009 and enjoyed their most successful season in 2012-13 when they advanced to the League Finals before a five-game series loss to the Castlegar Rebels. The team was most recently owned by Dean Keller.

“The KIJHL would like to acknowledge the Keller family and all of the volunteers, billets, fans and sponsors who have contributed to 15 years of junior hockey in Armstrong,” says Dubois.

Categories: Sports