An eastern Fraser Valley hockey product brings his Cranbrook Bucks to town for a Saturday night BCHL battle with the Chilliwack Chiefs. But Abbotsford’s Nathan Lieuwen won’t be on the ice. The retired goaltender will watch the game from the Chilliwack Coliseum press box, enjoying the bird’s eye view that comes with his role as a team owner.
“Having been there a little bit when I was going through minor hockey and then major junior, it’s going to be pretty cool to see our team play in that building,” the 31-year-old said.
Tonight marks the first time the Bucks have visited Chilliwack outside of BCHL Showcases. Cranbrook entered the league in 2020-21, ushered in as the BCHL’s 18th franchise. Lieuwen led the charge for a market that was still stinging from the loss of the Western Hockey League’s Kootenay Ice, who relocated to Winnipeg in 2019.
Chilliwack can relate.
Lieuwen spent parts of five seasons tending net for the Ice before moving on to a five-year pro career that would see him make seven National Hockey League appearances with the Buffalo Sabres in 2013-14.
“It was a hard time for this town. People here love their hockey and they are loyal and they support their local teams very well,” Lieuwen said. “There were some other circumstances around the Ice that made things difficult, and when they finally did leave there was a lot of disappointment.
“I was in town to see it all unfold and one day I woke up and realized I had an opportunity to bring hockey back once that team left. Once I had that thought, I kept chasing it and here we are.”
Lieuwen said he never paid much attention to the business side of hockey when he was a player, putting all of his focus and energy into stopping pucks. Injuries forced him out of the game after the 2016-17 season.
“The way my career ended was tough and it was all encompassing and I wasn’t paying attention, not even a little bit to anything outside of hockey,” he said. “I didn’t think a lot about life after hockey, so the transition didn’t happen until a little bit after I retired.
“Until the idea for the Bucks hit me, nothing like that had crossed my mind.”
Lieuwen was only 28 when he started down the Cranbrook Bucks path, but he said his age was never an issue.
“I never saw my age as part of it. I wanted to bring hockey to Cranbrook and see it though, and I just kept working until it happened.”
Now his birth certificate is an asset. Only six years removed from his playing days and younger than just about any other owner, head coach or general manager you can find, he can look forward to years and years of doing what he loves.
Lieuwen said he loves his adopted community and he loves managing the business side of the Bucks. Most of all he enjoys talking to the 16-to-20 year olds on the team and watching them grow as players and as people.
“They move on from here and go on to experience great things in life, and I’m glad we get to be a part of their journey,” he said. “I went through a lot of the same things they’re going through now, and it’s really cool to see it happen again and again with the players that come through here.
“I’m very lucky to do this and I enjoy coming to work every day.”
Saturday’s game at the Chilliwack Coliseum starts at 6 p.m.