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Aquilini brothers have control of Canucks, but what will they do with it?

The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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Aquilini brothers have control of Canucks, but what will they do with it?

The Canadian Press
By:

It also means brothers Francesco, Roberto and Paolo Aquilini could be blinded by the bright light of scrutiny often focused on the Canucks.

Previous owner John McCaw, a reclusive Seattle billionaire, was often criticized for not spending time in Vancouver. Being an absentee owner meant McCaw didn't see the daily headlines the Canucks generate in the local newspapers or have to listen to the ravings of fans on sports radio shows.

The Aquilini Investment Group, owned by the three brothers, have entered into an agreement to purchase the remaining half of the Canucks and GM Place arena. The Aquilinis originally purchased 50 per cent of the team and the building from McCaw in November of 2004.

"When our partnership was first formed (with McCaw) we both knew 100 per cent local ownership was always a possibility because it made sense," Francesco Aquilini told a news conference Thursday, a day after the deal was announced.

"We will now have a complete local focus with a made-in-Vancouver vision, brand and set of priorities. This is more than just a business transaction. We as a family are proud to be stewards of our province's hockey team."

Aquilini declined to say how much his family paid for the team. Back in 2004, Forbes magazine pegged the Canucks alone to be worth US$148 million.

It's estimated the team and the 18,630-seat arena is now worth between $250 and $300 million.

There's no doubt the Aquilinis will feel the pulse of the community. It remains to be seen how much of a hand they will take in operating the hockey team.

Aquilini didn't leave any doubt the owners will be asking questions if the team begins to struggle.

"That's going to rest on the shoulders of management," he said. "That's what they get paid to do. They are professionals and they have to do their job. The accountability is going to rest with them."

Aquilini already has his own man in place. He's hired Chris Zimmerman, a former Nike executive, to be the Canucks president and chief executive officer.

Dave Nonis, the Canucks general manager, said he's found the Aquilini family easy to work for.

"They are interested in how we do," he said. "They've been very supportive of our team, very supportive of how we've gone about things.

"You always want your owners to be involved. If they are not involved at all, if they don't have interest in the team, then I don't think you get those benefits you are looking for."

Canuck veteran Trevor Linden said local owners are important.

"It's good to have someone passionate about this team and this game and this city," said the former Canuck captain.

"It can also be a detractor. At times, when your not in this market, listening to everything going on, it can really affect the decisions you make.

"That may have been a benefit, when the owner wasn't listening to it every day and he let his people make decisions on what was right and not on what you are hearing or listening too."

Aquilini didn't rule out changing the Canucks' uniform and killer whale logo.

"The management team will be looking at that," Aquilini said. "That's a possibility. There's always room for change if it makes sense and if it's better. Depending on the feedback of the fans, that's a possibility."

Aquilini also declined comment on a lawsuit brought against him by two local businessmen over the family's original purchase of the team.

Tom Gaglardi and Ryan Beedie filed a statement of claim in court alleging McCaw and Aquilini acted in bad faith and disregarded legal agreements when they completed their deal.

"The matter is before the courts," Aquilini said.

"I've made my statements, I don't think I've done anything wrong. The court process will take its course."

McCaw bought into the Canucks in 1994. He came the team's majority owner in November of 1996.

The transaction between the Aquilinis and McCaw is expected to close early in 2007. The sale is subject to NHL approval.

The Aquilini group was founded almost 50 years ago by Luigi Aquilini, Francesco's father. One of his first investments was a house he purchased in East Vancouver.

The company now has a real estate portfolio that includes commercial and residential property, hotels and golf courses. It also has significant agricultural holdings, including blueberry and cranberry farms.

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Aquilini brothers have control of Canucks, but what will they do with it?