After purchasing the Niagara IceDogs in July, Brantford’s Darren DeDobbelaer is ready to get his start in Ontario’s top junior hockey league.
“It feels really good to be breaking into the Ontario Hockey League (OHL),” he said. “Other teams have been really great throughout the transition, owners and other general managers have reached out and have been really helpful. I’ve always been a risk taker so I feel very comfortable and very confident stepping into this position.”
The new owner said that he has been interested in purchasing the team for a number of years, but past attempts fell through. This time everything lined up including a special assist from another Brantford native and the greatest playmaker in the sport, Wayne Gretzky.
“When I started down this path, I called my accountant and he just kind of listened and said I had a business plan that we had to work on,” he said. “The next day he called me back and said that his client Wayne wanted a piece of it, because he was looking for an opportunity to get involved in junior hockey. Our accountant really played matchmaker and it has been great.”
Gretzky holds a minority stake in the team and DeDobbelaer said that he will serve as a consultant and will be around throughout the season when his schedule allows.
In a statement made through the team in July, Gretzky shared his thoughts about the pair’s new venture.
“I’m really excited about being back in junior hockey and have always loved it,” Gretzky said. “To be partnered with a fellow friend from Brantford is so exciting for all of us and we can’t wait to get started.”
DeDobbelaer has been involved in the game of hockey since he started playing at the age of four. He played a few years of junior and prep school before stepping into his first coaching role. He is breaking into the OHL after serving as president and general manager of the Ontario Junior A Hockey League’s Brantford 99ers and the Greater Ontario Junior B Hockey League’s Brantford Bandits. He will remain the general manager of the 99ers and said that he is looking forward to the future of all of the teams.
“It probably won’t happen this year because the sale went through so late in the OHL, but we’re looking to create a pipeline for these athletes,” he said. “I’m the only person in Canada to own teams at the top three levels of junior hockey so I’m looking to create strong development programs at each level. Not every player in junior A and B wants to go to the OHL, many have their eyes set on college or other routes, so it’s important to create those pathways for them.”
DeDobbelaer and his assistant general manager Wes Consorti haven’t wasted any time since taking over the team earlier this summer. They got to work right away, hiring a new coaching staff including former 99ers coach Daniel Fitzgerald, and other new team personnel like an athletic trainer, scouts, and a director of performance.
The IceDogs finished at the bottom of the OHL standings last season, winning only 22 of 68 games. DeDobbelaer said that they have been working hard to turn the organization around for the upcoming season.
“We never want to be in a rebuild and we’re looking to compete this year,” he said. “We made a lot of acquisitions in the offseason to bring in some players to complement the players that we already had. We do have our eyes set on a playoff spot, and obviously the goal is to win a championship. With the facility and location we have, there should be no reason to go through a rebuild.”
Despite rumours, DeDobbelaer said he has no intentions to move the team away from their home at the Meridian Centre in St. Catharines.
The puck drops on the Niagara IceDogs 2022-23 regular season on Thursday, September 29 against the Mississauga Steelheads.