—— By Josh Dawson/Castanet

 

After celebrating their 51st year in the BC Hockey League, the Merritt Centennials will be making a fresh start in the the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League.

In a news release, the KIJHL said the Junior A club will be joining the league after being awarded an expansion franchise. The Centennials are withdrawing from the BCHL after having played in the league since 1973.

The club will continue to be known as the Centennials and will begin play in the new league for the 2024/25 season, joining the Bill Ohlhausen division.

The club will move from community-owned to private ownership under Brad Anstey and Daniel Schofield.

“The Centennials have a rich history and this year celebrated their 51st consecutive season of continuous junior hockey in the City of Merritt,” says KIJHL commissioner Jeff Dubois.

“Brad and Daniel have a great vision for a successful and sustainable KIJHL franchise, and our Board of Governors was thrilled to see the tremendous support that exists within the community for a transition to our league.”

The KIJHL said Merritt’s expansion application was unanimously approved by the KIJHL’s Board of Governors and the Centennials will take the place of the Summerland Steam, following that franchise’s relocation to Williams Lake.

“We guarantee our commitment to grow the Centennials brand while building a competitive team with the best of sporting cultures,” Anstey said.

“We are proud to become a member of a league that provides development opportunities for local and provincial players to continue to pursue their hockey goals and dreams.”

The KIJHL said Centennial fans should expect “a number of immediate rivalries to develop” with the Kamloops Storm, Princeton Posse, Kelowna Chiefs and Chase Heat — all located less than 90 minutes from Merritt.

The KIJHL said further details on ticket information, spring camp dates and locations and staffing announcements will be announced in the coming weeks.

Merritt Mayor Michael Goetz said the upcoming season will hold a “whole new and exciting team” as well as opponents that haven’t previously been seen in the Valley.

“We are very pleased to see the Centennials become part of the KIJHL and we have signed a long-term lease to make sure this new brand of hockey stays and grows in Merritt,” Goetz said.

“We continue to see one of the longest-running Junior Hockey franchises secure its position for years to come, and we also welcome the new owners and appreciate their investment in keeping Merritt as one of the top hockey cities in B.C.”

Goetz said the city looks forward to drop the puck in the new season.

In a news release, Centennials president Ken Carruthers said the difficult decision was made after an “in-depth analysis” by the club’s board of directors.

“The Board members past and present have worked extremely hard to maintain 51 continuous years of operation in the BCHL but have finally conceded that continuing into the future is no longer viable,” Carruthers said.

“We are confident that the current players and staff can have a great run into the upcoming playoffs. To our community, we hope you will attend over the playoffs and we fill the barn in celebration and pride to the end of 51 hard fought years.”