One of northern Manitoba’s most successful hockey teams has changed hands.
The sale of the OCN Blizzard was confirmed by the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL) and the club on May 14. Business owners Salman Safdar and Usman Tahir will be the new owners of the team, finalizing a years-long process that nearly ended in 2016 with the team folding. Safdar and Tahir, both originally from Pakistan, own a number of Fas Gas locations in northern Manitoba and are based in The Pas area.
The Opaskwayak Cree Nation (OCN), the previous operator of the Blizzard, announced a deal had been struck for the team’s purchase back in January. The new ownership group was slated to include Safdar, Tahir and another The Pas business owner, Arthur Barbeau. Barbeau was not included in the final announced ownership for the team. A three-quarters majority of MJHL team representatives voted to approve the ownership transfer at a recent league meeting, finalizing the deal.
As part of the agreement, the Blizzard will continue to play on OCN land at the Gordon Lathlin Memorial Centre, the team’s home since their opening season in 1996. The team had been owned by OCN from their opening game until 2016.
In December 2016, a statement from OCN band council stated the team would fold at the end of the 2016-2017 season. Following a grassroots community effort to keep the team alive, the Blizzard continued operations independent of band ownership for 2017-2018. The club would continue operations, signing a deal to receive “assistance and partnership” from the band last year.
At one time, the Blizzard became one of the most dominant junior hockey teams in Manitoba history, winning five straight MJHL titles and promoting hockey in remote northern and Indigenous communities. Prominent alumni of the team include both former NHLer Jordin Tootoo, star forward and former team captain Terence Tootoo, and current Florida Panthers defender Brady Keeper.