BARRHEAD- The Barrhead Bombers will enter the 2021/2022 season with a new owner.
Ally Virani, an Edmonton-based property, investment and hospitality entrepreneur and general manager of Barrhead Inn and Suites will take the reigns of the Tier II junior hockey league club and he says he's looking forward to the challenge.
Founded in 1993, the league that membership usually hovers about 20 teams, based mostly in the southern U.S., play approximately a 50-game regular season designed to mimic what players would experience at the collegiate level.
The 2019/2020 season was the Barrhead Bombers’ inaugural season after relocating from Long Beach, Calif. They finished the season sporting a record of 12 wins, 32 losses, two overtime wins and one overtime loss and were slated to take on the Hinton Timberwolves in the first round of the playoffs.
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the league was forced to cancel the playoffs, and shortly afterwards, the 2020-21 season.
"We were a supporter of the team when it first came to town two years ago and became a major sponsor, which is probably one of the reasons the WSHL's regional director asked if I wanted to get more involved in the team," Virani said.
After about three months of discussions, Virani assumed ownership of the team. The details were finalized about a month ago.
"We are going to keep the name and logo and I am sure many people and volunteers involved with the franchise will still be involved, but for all intents and purposes, we are going to treat the season like it is our first," he said. "After all, because of the pandemic, we were not able to complete our inaugural season."
WSHL president and commissioner Ron White, who also owned the team, said it was always his intent to look for a local partner or owner for the Bombers, but the uncertainty caused by the pandemic made it essential to have a local owner.
"Right now, I can't come to see the Bombers or any of our other Canadian teams. Nor am I sure when I will be able to," White said, who lives in southern California.
Starting Aug. 9, U.S. residents, who meet the criteria to be considered fully vaccinated are allowed into Canada. The three-night hotel stay requirement was also rescinded on Aug. 9.
Initially, Virani will serve as general manager while Barrhead native Allan Measures will take on the coaching duties.
Measures has had a long and successful career as a player and a coach. He started his hockey career playing in Barrhead before making the jump to major junior before turning pro playing in the Vancouver Canucks farm system. However, Measures spent the majority of his professional playing career in Finland playing in the Finish Elite League. After retiring due to a neck injury, he also coached in Finland for a year.
After returning to Canada, Measures has coached teams at the Senior ‘AA’ and Alberta Junior Hockey League level. He also coached youth hockey teams in the Barrhead Minor Hockey Association, including the U18 Steelers in 2019.
Virani has also appointed Stephanie Cerny as the Bomber's team manager. Part of her duties will be finding volunteers and finding billets for the players. Taylor Lester will serve as the director of player development.
"He will be responsible for scouting and working with the players as a supplement to the coach and helping chart out their hockey path," Virani said.
Lester is based in Saskatoon and will visit Barrhead as needed.
However, in the immediate future, Virani is busy preparing for the team's tryout camp at the Agrena on Aug. 14 and 15.
"This is in addition to joining all the organizations we need to as part of the WSHL, meetings with other teams in the WSHL, especially in the Provincial Division, to plan what the games and travel are going to look like," he said. "Because of COVID, I think that is going to be the more difficult part."
The Provincial Division includes Barrhead, Hinton, Vegreville and Cold Lake. The WSHL has also added another team, the Vancouver Devils, but they will be based in Hope and will play in the league's North West Division against teams such as Seattle and Bellingham.
And although Canada is loosening restrictions for U.S. residents in the country as well as those coming in from different countries, Virani and the WSHL are not sure how that pertains to young hockey players staying in the country for prolonged periods.
"We will have to play everything by ear for the next two months, in terms of player recruitment, but everyone is in the same boat," he said.