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Nighthawks finish regular season on a high note, prepare for quarter-finals

Face the Fraser Valley Bandits in B.C. on Aug. 15

Leave them wanting more.

That’s what the Guelph Nighthawks did Friday night as they completed their Canadian Elite Basketball League’s regular season with a win at the Sleeman Centre and a vow to be back next year.

“The moment that we just left with out of this arena was pretty special,” said Nighthawks president Cameron Kusch after M Bryson sank three consecutive free throws to complete Guelph’s 89-85 victory over the Ottawa BlackJacks. “I was just saying to staff and players, I don't think there was anyone who left this arena tonight unhappy about their experience and watching Nighthawks basketball. We've come a long way in three years. We've obviously had the pandemic that we're still going through as well, but to leave with this moment tonight I think was something special for everyone.”

The Nighthawks completed the regular season of the CEBL’s third campaign feeling pretty good and confident about themselves and also feeling the franchise is headed in the right direction.

“Just like every industry, as we gradually opened, we had short notice to bring fans back into the building,” Kusch said. “Some of the things that the fans don't see behind the scenes in terms of putting on a Nighthawks' game-day experience is things like getting the video board set up, the dance crew ready to go, our flag bearers and the player intros all set up and ready to go. All those things that make a Nighthawks experience, we had a really short turnaround to pull together along with selling tickets back into our venue as well.

“I was excited. What we ended up seeing from a business perspective was a gradual increase in attendance every single one of our five games that we were able to play in front of our fans. That to me tells me that we're doing something right and that the fans are leaving excited when they leave the arena each night.”

Like any other sports team, the Nighthawks and league have had a trying time during the last two seasons thanks to the pandemic, but they will be back in the Royal City next year they’re hoping for better times ahead with more fans in the stands.

“The plan is 100 per cent to be here,” Kusch said. “We're here for the long term, we're not going anywhere. The league's not going anywhere. We're expanding into what will likely be two additional markets in 2022 for the CEBL. (Montreal has already been announced as one of the additions.) I can't wait to get to 2022 and hopefully we're at a point in the pandemic where there are less restrictions or no restrictions and we can open up this full venue and not be limited to the 1,000-person capacity that we have right now.”

For the record, the Nighthawks will finish fifth in the seven-team league with a 5-9 record and Friday’s win was their second on their court at the Sleeman Centre. They’ll play the Fraser Valley Bandits at Abbotsford, B.C., in a quarter-final Aug. 15.

“There's still a ton of work for us to do over the next two weeks as we head into our quarter-final matchup coming up in nine days in Fraser Valley now and into championship weekend that we'll hopefully end up playing in as well,” Kusch said. “After that, really the work doesn't stop. From a business perspective, that's when the hard work is done. From a ticket sales perspective, we'll be continuing with our season tickets on sale into 2022 and then trying to figure out how we can elevate our Nighthawks' game-day experience so when fans come in, we give them a different experience, a better experience in 2022. Hopefully that involves returning to some level of normal things like our courtside seats that we don't have this year, the courtside bar that we didn't have this year, the family zone area -- reintroducing those and hopefully a couple cool other special elements that we'll have in 2022."

Quarter-final winners advance to the semifinals during the league’s championship weekend at Edmonton Aug. 18 to 22.