“The Vance bus jinx” was once a thing for the Prince Albert Raiders.
The sports world can be a superstitious one, and at times in hockey, superstitions can run wild. A short time after the Raiders began their off-season in May of 2001 they hired a keen, upbeat and positive new director of marketing in Bruce Vance, who came over from the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes. Vance was with the Hurricanes from 1996 to 2001 including their WHL championship campaign in 1996-97.
While Vance paid astute detail to the business side of the Raiders, he lived the game night passion on his sleeve for the team. In his first few years with the team, it seemed like the Raiders would lose any time he accompanied the squad on a road trip, whether he rode with the club on the bus or drove up on his own accord.
During Vance’s early years with the Raiders, the team had a lot of great characters who had character on their roster. In absolute random order, the Raiders roster included the likes of Luke Fritshaw, Chris Schlenker, Kyle Chipchura, Rejean Beauchemin, Jeremy Colliton, Justin Cruse, Dane Byers, Seth Leonard, Aki Seitsonen, Mike Gauthier, Evan Schafer, Travis Young, Brett Novak, Mark Ardelan, Caine Pearpoint, Mike Hellyer, Jeff May, Riley Cote, Grant McNeill and the list could go on.
The good-natured jabs would flow, so you had to have a bit of a thick skin. If a joke didn’t go over with someone, an apology was always given.
Vance took a few good-natured jabs about how the team didn’t win, when he went on the road with them. Bob Twyver, who was the Raiders director of business operations in Vance’s first season with the club, even got in on the fun.
During the 2001-02 campaign, Twyver went on a five-game road trip with the Raiders, and the team came back with three wins and a tie. Twyver got some teases in on Vance that road trips were fun.
Due to the superstitious nature of hockey, I’m pretty sure Vance might have had a moment or two thinking he was the problem when he accompanied the team on road trips, because he wanted the team to win so badly. He would deliver jabs back noting road wins here and there he had accompanied the team for.
The bus jinx officially died when the Raiders went on “The Run” in the 2005 WHL Playoffs, and many of those characters who had character listed earlier were on the Prince Albert roster that year. A first round 4-0 series sweep over the archrival Saskatoon Blades included two road wins that sounded like home games due to folks from “Hockey Town North” packing into the building then known as the Credit Union Centre.
Speaking of “Hockey Town North,” Vance was the one who created that term, and it has become a permanent descriptor for Prince Albert. He also helped start the Raiders Wall of Honour with Donn Clark, who was the long time head of the team’s hockey operations.
Back to the 2005 WHL playoffs, the Raiders faced the Medicine Hat Tigers in the second round. A big road victory came in Game 5 of that series at The Arena, where most of the sellout crowd of 4,006 spectators were raucous for “The Gas City” side. The Raiders were only able to get the visiting team ticket allotment of 100 spectators into the rink as the Tigers had a waiting list for season tickets at the time.
In double overtime, rookie right-winger Brent Ottmann, who turned 17-years-old in January of that year, scored a bad angle goal to give the visitors a 2-1 victory and a 3-2 series lead. The Raiders closed the series out with a 3-0 victory at home a couple of nights later in Game 6.
Another road victory came in a hard-fought Eastern Conference Championship Series the Raiders ultimately lost in a series-deciding Game 7 to the Brandon Wheat Kings.
From director of marketing to business manager and director of marketing, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say Vance might have at some point in time done every business function in the Raiders office during his time with the team from 2001 to 2015. Often, he was the guy that made the Raiders go. As the years went on, he still kept his heart on his sleeve, but he got a handle of presenting his passion in a more controlled way.
On Friday, Vance will be inducted in the builders’ category on the Raiders Wall of Honour before that night’s WHL contest against the Regina Pats at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre. It is an honour that is very much deserved.
He played a big role in ensuring the Raiders had a future in Prince Albert. When Vance joined the Raiders in 2001, the business side of the team was on shaky grounds.
Early into the 2001-02, Clark came up with idea to break up the general manager’s role into the roles of director of hockey operations and director of business operations. Working together, Clark and Vance, whose plaques will be beside each other on the Wall of Honour, helped the team seek out people in the community that could help the club like Twyver and a close distance to the community in Robin Davie from Saskatoon.
The business operations side of the team along with the board of directors came up with the “Bring Back The Magic” campaign in 2004 led by the million-dollar donation by the late Art Hauser that got the Raiders home rink renovated and the team back on its feet financially. The name of the Raiders home would change from the Comuniplex to the Art Hauser Centre as thanks to Hauser for his donation and leadership.
Following the “Bring Back The Magic” campaign, you felt like you never had to worry about the business side of the Raiders as long as Vance was there. He always ensured the team stayed connected with the community through various promotions and initiatives. Vance and his staff at that time won the WHL’s marketing and public relations award for the 2006-07 campaign.
Vance also involved himself in numerous ways in the community coaching, managing and volunteering due to the sports and activities his son, Jon, and daughters, Briane and Jessica, were involved with. A lot of the involvements continued after all three of his children moved into adulthood. That included being involved with the Esso Cup female under-18 AAA national championship hockey tournament held in Prince Albert this past April.
Vance served as co-manager alongside his wife, Liane, with the Prince Albert A & W Bears, now known as the Prince Albert Northern Bears, from 2011 to 2015. He served as president of the Crescent Acres Community Club for seven years and was named Softball Saskatchewan’s volunteer of the year in 2009.
It seemed like life dealt him an unfair low blow when he was diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer in November of 2013. After getting a no evidence of disease diagnosis in July of 2014, Vance stayed on with the Raiders until Jessica graduated high school in June of 2015.
He became the Marketing and Sponsorship Coordinator for the City of Prince Albert in order to allow him to see Jessica play goal in the U Sports ranks. Jessica had a spectacular career playing for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies Women’s Team including Canada West Conference MVP honours in 2017-18.
Further unfair hits followed included Liane being diagnosed with rectal cancer in July of 2018, and their family dog, Bella, was diagnosed with lymphoma that same month. Liane won her cancer battle, while Bella passed away after a year of battling the disease.
In August of 2020 about six months after Liane finished her treatment, Bruce was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer with metastases to his bones, liver and lungs. Vance’s diagnosis was terminal, and he was given 24 to 28 months to live. He surpassed that mostly likely thanks to his positive nature and his willingness to continue to live life doing upbeat things.
He had a great night when he was honoured by the Bears on September 30. It is safe to assume he will have another great night when he is honoured by the Raiders on Friday.
The positivity keeps him going. Hopefully that night, he will be sharing the hockey stories and tall tales with friends. Those tales might or might not include have a few laughs over recollections of the bus jinx from his early days in P.A.
Darren Steinke is a Saskatoon-based freelance sportswriter and photographer with more than 20 years of experience covering the WHL. He blogs frequently at stankssermon.blogspot.com.