Dan Hamhuis has gone from the best defenceman in Prince George to the best defenceman, arguably, on the Vancouver Canucks. He’s gone from the CHL’s best national pivot – an award he picked up with the Cougars in 2002 – to a Canadian Olympian, a gold medallist from this February’s Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
And now, the Smithers, B.C. native is going home. Well, to his second home.
Hamhuis is a member of the new ownership group of his Western Hockey League alma mater, the Prince George Cougars, where he played from 1998 to ’02.
“I remember the first game I played there, when the national anthem was on and everyone stood up,” Hamhuis told Canucks.com. “I was just completely overwhelmed with how many people were in that building and how loud it was, the buzz around the city was electric and it was a really cool environment to play in.”
“Unfortunately the excitement has fallen off over the last 10 years, but there’s so many people that want it to work. I want to be able to bring it back to an environment that I got to play in front of for all these young guys out there because it’s a great market to play in and it hasn’t been lately.”
The Cougars have struggled financially for sometime, according to Yahoo! Sports’s Neate Sager, who wrote of Hamhuis’s reported ownership way back in March. Cougars’ attendance has been low – dipping 18 per cent between 2014 and 2012, when it was already last in the WHL – and the team has missed the playoffs in five of its past seven seasons.
Hamhuis and his group will also need to hire a new general manager, after the team dismissed of Dallas Thomson in April.
The Cougars unveiled their new ownership group (officially) in May, with a slogan promising a “New Ice Age”.
“We strongly believe that we are going to get this team back to where they were when they first got to Prince George,” Cougars President Greg Pocock said at the city’s CN Centre (WHL.ca). “Our goal is to make the Prince George Cougars the model mid-market franchise in the WHL.”
Hamhuis was just 15 years old when he arrived in Prince George.
He had 156 points in 247 games in the WHL, with 60 points in 59 games in his decorated 2002 campaign.
He was selected by Nashville, 12th overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.
Hamhuis has been Vancouver’s rock-steadiest defenceman for four seasons now, since he arrived as a free agent in 2010 and signed a six-year deal.
And now he adds owner to an already impressive playing resume.
“Right now when this one (chance to buy the Cougars) came up, the timing was excellent for me with the position I’m in, knowing more about what kinds of things I want to invest in and be a part of,” he said. “The right people approached me, it’s a good group and we’ve got a solid foundation now.”
The blueliner has represented Canada on multiple occasions, picking up a silver medal and a bronze medal at the 2001 and 2001 World Junior Hockey Championships. He has worn the maple leaf for five World Championship teams – from 2006 to 2009, and in 2013 – in addition to that gold medal he pulled down in Sochi, playing with then-Vancouver teammate Roberto Luongo.