The British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL), a junior-level league which includes the Merritt Centennials and 17 other teams, has announced it will soon cut ties with Hockey Canada, instead becoming an independent league.
In an announcement on Monday (May 1), league executives said the new direction will allow for the ability to recruit more players to B.C. from across Canada and internationally, as well as offer more routes to professional hockey for its players. The change will take place on June 1, 2023, following what the BCHL said was five years trying to solve ‘key complaints’ with Hockey Canada. The league hopes to foster more opportunities for players and fans.
“The BCHL sends more players to NCAA Division I teams than all other junior hockey leagues in Canada combined,” said BCHL Chairman Graham Fraser. “During the past season there were 411 BCHL alumni on NCAA rosters, making up nearly a quarter of all Division I college hockey. That is exciting, but we aspire to do more for players and to provide a higher level of hockey for our fans. Under the current system, that’s just not possible.”
Hockey Canada, the national governing body of ice hockey, said in a statement that they “feel strongly that our model for delivering hockey is to the benefit and safety of players, coaches, officials, parents, administrators and volunteers, we recognize that the BCHL and others are free to enjoy the game outside of sanctioned programs.”
The BCHL said it anticipates a higher level of play with the new changes, now being able to recruit U18 players from around the country and beyond. According to the league, under Hockey Canada’s system, U18 players who signed with Major Junior teams in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) are disqualified from playing in American colleges, because the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) labels the CHL a professional league. The changes will also see Commissioner Chris Hebb move solely into the role of Chief Executive Officer, with Steven Cocker moving into the role of Commissioner.
“We believe U18 players should have two development paths in Canada – Major Junior leading to the National Hockey League (NHL) being one and college-tracking junior leading to a US college and then the NHL being the other. Both are important. Both should be supported,” said BCHL CEO Chris Hebb.
The league noted that it has established a “foundation in all operational areas” for its upcoming 2023/24 season, including risk management, health and safety, education programs, insurance, officials, and governance.
“Our owners and governors are proud of how far we have come in recent years and have a strong desire to continue to grow and make decisions that are in the best interests of young players and families,” added Fraser. “Today, we are entering a new era that will eliminate barriers and change the landscape of junior hockey in Canada.”
Questions remain by many around what the move will mean in terms of referees, and how teams will make trades with other Junior A leagues in Canada and the U.S. The BCHL said in its announcement that the changes will bring new events, more NCAA and U Sports scholarships, a larger player pool, and higher standards.
For more information, visit the BCHL website at www.bchl.ca.