In the big leagues 

Whistler's Jeff Stipec credits Intrawest experience for current success as Canucks Coo

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAN FALLOON - In The woods Vancouver Canucks forward Brendan Woods shoots on Ivan Kublakov during training camp at Meadow Park Sports Centre on Sept. 14.
  • Photo by Dan Falloon
  • In The woods Vancouver Canucks forward Brendan Woods shoots on Ivan Kublakov during training camp at Meadow Park Sports Centre on Sept. 14.

The Vancouver Canucks regularly hold training camp here in Whistler, like they did this past weekend from Sept. 14 to 17.

And beyond that, players occasionally come up during a break in the schedule to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

But Whistler has an even stronger connection to the team than that, as Canucks Sports and Entertainment Chief Operating Officer Jeff Stipec has his home base in Bayshores.

Stipec's portfolio is a large one, as he manages everything "from the business of the hockey team to concerts and events that come through Rogers Arena."

While acknowledging that several young Canadians grow up dreaming of working in pro hockey, and he was no different, Stipec said his favourite element of the job is working in a social environment.

"Throughout my career, it's always been working with people. Whether they're on our team or (whether we're) hosting people," he said over coffee at Creekside on Sept. 14.

Stipec garnered plenty of experience welcoming guests early on as an usher at Pacific Coliseum during the Canucks' 1982 run to the Stanley Cup Final, then later with The Keg, working his way up from dishwasher to the head office.

But he took the next step here in Whistler, accepting a job with Intrawest in 1991 to help boost Blackcomb Mountain. Stipec later swapped snow for sun, managing the company's golf and warm-weather offerings from Scottsdale, Ariz.

At either locale, though, there were a number of logistical considerations like snowmaking, grooming, rentals and retail, for example. On Griffiths Way, there's similar juggling that occurs.

"If you think about a ski day and what would happen up here on a Saturday or Sunday or through the Christmas holidays, you're hosting 20,000 people up on the mountain. You've got to make sure they're safe and you've got to make sure they're having a great time," he said. "The snow conditions aren't always 100 per cent but you've got to put on a great show."

With the Canucks, that lesson has come in especially handy in recent seasons, as the team has failed to make the playoffs in four of the past five seasons and the franchise cornerstone Sedin twins retired this off-season.

But even after a number of low seasons, Stipec has managed to encourage 90 per cent of season-ticket holders to renew, a top-10 renewal rate in the 31-team National Hockey League.

"There are some years you don't make the playoffs," he said. "There are games at the end of the season that don't have playoff implications, but you still have to put on that great show. There are people every night that are coming to their first hockey game ever in their life.

"It's pretty important we make sure they have a great time."

As well, with young talents like Brock Boeser, Elias Petterson and Olli Juolevi set to take the reins and guide the club into a new era, Stipec has a few aces up his sleeve when it comes to encouraging fans to return.

Boeser said the renewal rate gives the team a boost of confidence as it heads into the new campaign.

"It's awesome. There are so many supportive fans and I love playing in Vancouver. It's great how much they support us," said Boeser, who was in the Calder Trophy hunt as rookie of the year in 2017-18 before an injury ended his season early. "Everyone's excited for all these young guys coming up."

Stipec started in Whistler before the two mountains merged, so he's well aware of how to navigate a rivalry for visitors' entertainment dollars.

"We'd go to work every day trying to outdo Whistler and the Whistler guys would go to work every day trying to outdo us," he recalls of his days working in the resort. "Through that, I actually married a Whistler girl, so I showed that the merger could work."

Stipec's wife, Carol, works with Whistler Adaptive Sports Program as a ski-camp supervisor, earning the program's professional of the year award this past season.

A significant project on Stipec's plate is a potential revamp to the Rogers Arena, as the site will be able to expand its footprint when the Georgia Viaduct is removed. Stipec hopes to create a defined point of entry to the arena as opposed to the plethora of entrances offered now. Among his ideas are a larger plaza near the entrance—this type of design can be found at some of the newer arenas such as Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Nashville.

Stipec was first hired by the Canucks in 2014 as they looked to pump up their hospitality program, elevating concessions from hot dogs and popcorn to offering sushi and even hiring sommeliers. This also coincided with the Canucks' owners, the Aquilini Group, purchasing Toptable Group, which includes local standout Araxi. He was promoted into his current role in 2016.

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