It’s been said that winning feels so good you can taste it.
After a couple of forgettable seasons left a less than palatable taste in the mouth of the Saanich Braves and their fans, the junior B team is making a mark as a top club in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League. The Braves have eight wins in their first 12 games and are first in the South Division.
Combine that with Pearkes’ revamped concession stand and it’s easy to see how going to the Braves’ Friday night home games has become a much sweeter experience for fans to savour.
The renovated concession stand is now open seven days a week and is offering a variety of hot foods for the first time in many years.
“After hearing a lot of comments from people the past two years that it was ‘too bad there wasn’t a concession,’ we’re now seeing that it’s been needed,” said Braves game day co-ordinator Laura Pelletier.
The trick off the ice was a solid re-investment into the ailing food stand. Local businesses Don Mann Excavating and Mike Geric Construction (Braves co-owner) stepped up with the funds to install new counters and paint the concession, while also installing new equipment.
Just as new Braves captain Nick Guerra is winning over fans with his high-paced scoring on the ice (he leads the league with 19 goals in 12 games), the rink’s new french fry machine is winning people off of it.
Pelletier, who is also a hockey mom to a minor player, was on the road at another rink last year when she saw a countertop deep fry machine that is odourless and ventless. A brand new machine of the same make is now at Pearkes.
“It does french fries, chicken strips, onion rings and the demand has been high since we started selling it,” Pelletier said. “It’s much more than the coffee-and-chocolate-bar concession that it was.”
Last year, the food concession got a small shot in the arm with a popcorn machine and an even bigger one with the espresso/cappuccino/latte maker. The latter also makes hot chocolate, rounding out the quintessential Canadian hockey rink offerings.
The improvement came from a meeting earlier this year between the Braves management and the Saanich staff who run Pearkes. The revival started with Spectrum Community School students running the concession three days a week last year. The number of sales opened people’s eyes, and the Braves saw it as an opportunity to open the concession full time, Pelletier said.
Saanich agreed to have the Braves invest and take over the concession, as the Braves have also committed to partnering with the various Pearkes user groups and community groups.
Some nights there are more people coming in from the Pearkes field house than there are from the two ice rinks. Friday night home games are the busiest, but sales are consistent all week, said Katherine Miller, who staffs the food stand most of the week.
“We sell a lot of fries and popcorn and a lot of candy,” she said.
Sales of Saanich Braves hockey sweaters are also picking up, with four sold already.
What’s more, Saanich Youth Services has partnered with the Braves to create Friday Nights Are Alright! at Pearkes, a free evening for youth in Grades 6 to 12.
It starts with public skating at 5:45 until 6:55 p.m. (on the green rink) which overlaps by 10 minutes with the Braves puck drop at 6:45 p.m. (ticket included). At the same time, the Flipside Youth Activity Centre is open from 7 to 10 p.m. where kids can play pool, ping-pong, foosball and video game systems with free refreshments.
Students need to drop by the Flipside Youth Activity Centre from 3 to 5 p.m. on Fridays to pick up the free admission ticket to the Braves. Student ID is all that’s needed for free skating and rentals.
Pearkes concession hours are nightly Monday to Friday from 4 to 8 p.m. (open later during Braves game days) and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The team’s beer garden also returned this year to a small section of the rink.
The Saanich Braves host VIJHL games every Friday night at 6:45 p.m. during the season, with some additional Wednesday night games as well. See the schedule at vijhl.com.