Burnaby hotelier buys Coquitlam Express

The Burnaby Express are being reborn. At least in the front office of the Coquitlam Express.

Fayaz Manji, a hotelier who lives in Burnaby, acquired the BC Hockey League team Oct. 4.

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But he said he’s not looking to repatriate the Express — which spent five seasons in Burnaby while the home rink in Coquitlam was being rebuilt — back to his hometown. Part of his acquisition was also to negotiate a new five-year lease at Coquitlam's Poirier Sport and Leisure Complex.

Manji started initial discussions to invest in the team last spring, but quickly progressed to a wholesale purchase from the former ownership group of ex-pat hockey players living abroad during the Express’ playoff series against the Prince George Spruce Kings. He assembled a team with hockey knowledge and business skills to assess the market’s potential. It included: Dave McLellan, who coached the Express during the team’s sojourn in Burnaby; Ron Veit, a goaltending coach who’s worked with teams in the BCHL, Western Hockey League and the UBC Thunderbirds, as well as his own academy; and veteran women’s hockey player, Allanah Kedra. Joining them from the previous Express regime is team president, Mark Pettie.

Manji said he liked what he heard from his advisors, as well as from the league’s sophomore commissioner, Chris Hebb.

“We can show the community what they really have here,” Manji said.

McLellan, who will be the team’s new president, while Pettie assumes the role of vice-president, said his own experience with young people shows him there’s untapped potential to increase support for the Express.

“The kids go home and play video games, so the idea is to create an event that the kids want to go to so they can spend time with their friends,” McLellan, who also served as Burnaby Express head coach from 2007 to 2009, said.

Some of those elements could include pre-game barbecues in the arena parking lot, post-game public skates with the players, minor hockey games during intermissions and even a new mascot.

Maji, who owns several hotels in the Ramada, Super 8, Days Inn and Choice chains in British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec and Prince Edward Island, said owning a Junior A hockey team is rarely a profitable exercise. But it is a good fit with his other community-building efforts at Canucks Place and the BC Women’s Hospital. He’s also an avid floor hockey player and coach.

Manji said the BCHL’s emphasis on creating educational opportunities for its players is especially enticing.

“It represents a high level of hockey, but also a chance to get an education.” he said.

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