Wednesday marked five years to the day that Olaf Kolzig and Stu Barnes were approved by the Western Hockey League's Board of Governors to purchase the Tri-City Americans from Darryl Porter and the rest of his ownership group.
The sale become final on May 19, 2005, and since then the Americans have taken huge steps in becoming one of the most respected and competitive franchises in the WHL.
"Stu and I, we did everything from the heart when we decided to do this," said Kolzig, a former NHL goaltender. "It has been real gratifying. We were able to open some doors that previously weren't there. We knew what the city had to offer and if we could gain the trust of the city back, we would be OK. With the success of the team, being competitive every night and on the verge of going to the Memorial Cup, it has added more excitement to the organization."
The Americans trail the Vancouver Giants 2-1 in the best-of-7 Western Conference finals going into Game 4 tonight at Pacific Coliseum. It's Tri-City's second trip to the Western Conference finals in three years after winning three straight U.S. Division titles.
Never miss a local story.
"It has been a lot of fun," said Barnes, who -- along with Kolzig -- will be at Game 5 on Friday at Toyota Center. "It's great to see how the team has turned the corner and solidified itself in the league. You never would have expected the progress and results we've gotten in just the last five years. Bob Tory deserves a lot of credit for that, as do the coaches and front office staff who have worked hard to make it happen. We realize how much everyone has done. We are huge fans and love being a part of it."
The Americans have been a part of the Mid-Columbia since 1988 when Ron Dixon moved the franchise to Kennewick from New Westminster, British Columbia.
Kolzig and Barnes were part of that team.
"When the threat of the team we played for was leaving, it was a chance to keep the team here," Kolzig said. "Next thing you know, we put a pretty good run together the last five years. We wanted to create a professional atmosphere where things are done right on and off the ice. We wanted to offer them a professional atmosphere, a great workout facility, access to trainers and treat them like players should be treated. In return, we expect them to play hard for the organization and they have. The credit goes to the players and the coaches we have had to get them to playing the way they have."
Tory, who was part of Porter's ownership group, opted out when the team was sold and joined Kolzig, Barnes and Dennis Loman.
"From Day 1, I believed it would work in the Tri-Cities," said Tory, who also is the team's general manager. "Both Mark Wagstaff and Darryl (Porter) would have preferred to move the team. That day (of the vote) had a lot of uncertainty. It was a stressful day. There was a chance there would be no hockey in the Tri-Cities. There would have been a huge impact on a lot of people -- the players, the coaches and the community. That was an exciting day."
Once the ownership changed hands, the Americans moved forward.
The players have been provided state-of-the-art facilities, trainers and have had quality coaches in Don Nachbaur and Jim Hiller. The team has performed more than 2,500 man hours of community service each of the last three years and their on-ice success has built a loyal fan base that has grown more than 800 fans per game over the last five year. This year, the team has welcomed more than 200,000 fans (including playoffs) to Toyota Center for the first time since the 1990-91 season.
"Olie, Stu, Dennis and I believed in our plan and we were willing to make the commitment," Tory said. "Giving back to your roots is important, but investing in a hockey team is a risky business. Olie and Stu allow us to do our jobs without interference. Our players have been wonderful. They have come in and enjoyed their time. I think they understand this a special place to play."