Through the entire process of building the Cranbrook Bucks, there has only been one true face of the franchise, so far. From the announcement of the team to signing the first few players, to naming the first head coach and general manager, Cranbrook Bucks team president and majority owner Nathan Lieuwen has been there every step of the way. His constant enthusiasm and positive energy are exactly what Cranbrook needed to see from the ownership group of its new expansion team.
Lieuwen has accomplished a lot in life, for someone who has not yet turned 29 years old. This list would include a playing career spanning over two decades in cities around the world. He has also started a young family with his wife Breanne, who he met while playing junior hockey in Cranbrook. After his playing career, they returned to the community. Lieuwen then spent parts of the next two years in some coaching roles in Cranbrook.
Most recently, of course, he was a big part of bringing junior hockey back to Cranbrook. Let’s learn a little bit more about the man greatly responsible for the BCHL’s expansion Cranbrook Bucks.
Playing career starts strong
In his Western Hockey League draft-eligible season, Lieuwen played for his hometown Abbotsford Hawks Bantam AAA team. He led that team to a Western Canadian Championship where he was named top goalie, and a tournament All-Star. The following season, Lieuwen moved on the Fraser Valley Bruins of the British Columbia Major Midget League. He played 36 games in his lone season with the Bruins, before moving on to junior hockey.
Lieuwen suffered a concussion in the 2007-08 season, limiting his game action. That year, a quick stint with the BCHL’s Westside Warriors saw him get into 14 regular season and playoff games. In a very solid regular season with the Warriors, Lieuwen posted a 2.14 goals-against-average, and a .930 save percentage in 12 games. He would also appear in three WHL games with the Ice that season.
Lieuwen would go on to play 178 regular season WHL games with the Ice. He compiled 85 wins, carried a 2.77 GAA, a .903 SV%, and recorded nine shutouts over that time.
Lieuwen also made 26 career post-season WHL appearances, where he recorded 16 wins, a 2.41 GAA, a .916 SV% and three shutouts. In 2010-11, Lieuwen led the Ice to a WHL championship, in which he was named playoff MVP. This would lead to an appearance in the Canadian Hockey League’s national championship tournament, the Memorial Cup. His magical season with the Ice resulted in Lieuwen being selected in the sixth round, 167th overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
Also on the list of accomplishments for Lieuwen prior to turning pro was a couple of international tournaments with Hockey Canada. In 2007, he suited up for Team Pacific in the U17 World Championship in London, Ontario. He also participated in the Ivan Hlinka U18 tournament in Slovakia, where he and Team Canada won the gold medal.
The road to the NHL
Lieuwen began his professional career in the 2012-13 season. He played 27 games that year for the Greenville Road Warriors of the ECHL. His next stint in the league came five years later in 2016-17, his final season of professional hockey. Lieuwen played 12 games for the Colorado Eagles that season.
In between ECHL appearances in his first and last seasons of pro hockey, Lieuwen spent most of his five professional seasons in the American Hockey League. The majority of that time was spent with the Rochester Americans, the affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres. He also saw some time with the San Antonio Rampage in his final season before retirement.
In the AHL, he carried a 2.75 GAA and a .909 SV%. He recorded five shutouts and picked up 36 wins in 82 games played.
On March 16, 2014, Lieuwen made his National Hockey League debut at 22 years old. He made all seven of his career NHL appearances near the end of that 2013-14 season.
In his final appearance that season, Lieuwen suffered a concussion on a collision in his goal crease. This was not the first head injury he suffered in his career, but was the most significant. The concussion had lasting effects on his vision, ultimately leading to his retirement after the 2016-17 season.
For his seven-game NHL career, he carried a respectable 2.98 GAA, a .906 SV%, and one NHL victory.
Have you seen this man?Luckily you'll have the opportunity to on February 19, 2020, at the Royal Alexandra Hall!…
Post playing career
Due to vision problems and health concerns still lingering from the concussion he suffered in 2014, Lieuwen retired from professional hockey in 2017. After retiring, Nathan and Breanne returned to Cranbrook. The next chapter in their life included welcoming their first son to the world. They have since also welcomed their first daughter. Despite being a busy family man, the passion for the game never burnt out for the newly retired 25-year-old.
Lieuwen started his own goalie school called Kootenay Goaltending. He wanted to use his passion for helping young goalies in the Cranbrook area reach their full potential. His business philosophy was to bring quality service that makes a lasting impact. “As an individual, I believe what sets me apart from the rest is making sure every client is learning and growing with every visit and I attribute my success to the need to see goalies grow and succeed at their craft.”
He also joined the Kootenay Ice as video coach for the last two seasons they spent in Cranbrook. When it was announced in January 2019 that the Ice was relocating, he refused to let the passionate hockey community of Cranbrook not have a team.
Lieuwen began exploring the possibilities of bringing junior hockey back to the city. He settled on Junior A being the best fit for Cranbrook and shifted his focus to the BCHL. A long and strenuous process of proving Cranbrook to be a market fit for the BCHL began.
BCHL announces expansion to Cranbrook
The #BCHL & City of #Cranbrook are proud to announce the expansion Cranbrook Bucks Hockey Club will be joining the Interior Division of the BCHL starting in the 2020/2021 season, playing out of Western Financial Place. More to come. GO BCHL @GoBCHL @BCHLBucks @cranbrookbucks pic.twitter.com/zxtlAB3qrf
— City of Cranbrook (@cityofcranbrook) October 8, 2019
On October 8, 2019, Lieuwen had officially accomplished his goal of bringing a BCHL team to Cranbrook. The expansion franchise was announced outside the new team’s office at Western Financial Place. Months of hard work had finally paid off.
“We are extremely excited to bring a BCHL franchise to Cranbrook and the East Kootenay,” said Lieuwen at the time. “The Cranbrook Bucks Hockey Club looks forward to being a proud member of the Cranbrook community and surrounding areas for many years to come. We are grateful for all parties involved in bringing the BCHL to Cranbrook and we can’t wait for the puck to drop for the 2020-21 season.”
Lieuwen has maintained and demonstrated that the Bucks will be a family-focused organization and an active community member. While the anticipation continues ahead of the Bucks’ inaugural season, so does the hard work. With the help of his staff, Lieuwen remains focused on presenting the best possible product when the Bucks finally hit the ice in 2020-21.