The British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) is charting a new path as an independent entity, following a vote by Board of Governors not to renew an agreement with Hockey Canada to operate within its junior hockey system.
The BCHL, which includes 18 Jr. A hockey franchises in the province and Washington State, is breaking up with Hockey Canada in order to address hurdles for players under 18 years of age who wish to maintain eligibility for U.S. college scholarships, amongst other challenges.
The league will become independent effective June 1, 2023.
“The BCHL sends more players to NCAA Division I teams than all other junior hockey leagues in Canada combined,” said Graham Fraser, BCHL Chairman, in a news release. “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.”
“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. Today, we are entering a new era that will eliminate barriers and change the landscape of junior hockey in Canada.”
The BCHL has been exploring the move for the last five years, amid efforts to solve issues within Hockey Canada’s system. Specific challenges for U18 players include disqualification from U.S. colleges if they sign with a Canadian Hockey League franchise.
Further, if a U18 player decides to keep their eligibility and play Jr. A, they are restricted to playing in their province of residence. If a U18 player doesn’t have a competitive junior option in their province, they are often forced to leave Canada to play in other leagues, such as the United States Hockey League (USHL) in order to maintain NCAA eligibility.
“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,” said Chris Hebb, BCHL CEO.
“Both are important. Both should be supported.”
By becoming an independent league, the BCHL says more players will earn post-secondary scholarships, and in turn, push a higher level of competition. Possibilities are open for potential new events, such as a post-playoff tournament to showcase player skill levels, while the new changes mean the league can now recruit from other provinces, the U.S. and outside North America.
Looking ahead to next season, the BCHL has “established a foundation” in areas such as risk management, health and safety, education programs, insurance, officials and governance.
“Players and families currently in the BCHL can rest assured that we remain committed to player development and the standards of excellence in their day-to-day hockey experiences will not change as a result of our decision,” said Steven Cocker, Commissioner of the BCHL. “In fact, they will have access to even more opportunities for their future success. We are excited to embark on this new chapter and continue building a better league for everyone.”