Powell River Kings are preparing for a new regime as the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) separates itself from Hockey Canada on June 1.
Kings general manager Chad van Diemen said there are a number of changes the initiative will bring about. One of them will be opening up the borders to 16- and 17-year-old players, who, under current rules, are not able to play for out-of-province Junior A teams unless their parents reside in that province or relocate to it. League rules stipulate that teams have to have at least five players from BC, according to van Diemen.
“There definitely are some changes,” said van Diemen. “There is a lot to process and a lot to go over. We’re working every day to deal with all the information that’s coming and to build our roster. It’s been an interesting couple of weeks.
“We have our league meetings in Victoria [May 25 and 26] and there will be a lot of discussion there. There will be lots more to unpack and there is still lots to figure out in terms of the rules. There’s a good base to work with but there’s a lot of rules to go over with what the league is going to look like.”
van Diemen said he has a pretty clear picture of the changes.
“The league is going to be a lot deeper,” he added. “We’ll have a bigger talent pool to draw from. As of right now, with no transfer agreements in place, it will be easier to bring players in, as opposed to having to trade players and make deals with teams across Canada. We are going to have the ability to recruit them, essentially.
“That’s going to be a big change. The depth of the league will be the biggest difference from the fans point of view.”
In addition to the ability to recruit younger players, van Diemen said there will also be the opportunity to have European players in the league.
“Each team can have up to two Europeans on their roster, so that adds another level of depth and excitement,” said van Diemen. “Again, it’s providing more options for more players abroad to come to our league to go down and play college hockey after. Discussions have been in the works for many years.
“With everything happening with Hockey Canada, and a lack of conversation we’ve had over the years, it’s come to this. It’s a pretty exciting time for the BCHL and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.”
The Kings are in the process of putting together next season’s roster. van Diemen said the hockey club has been working on recruiting and compiling lists of a few new players.
“We’ve been working on that pretty hard,” added van Diemen. “Basically, it’s an ongoing thing all year. We have a few player announcements. A couple of our 20-year-olds have committed to some schools and we have a couple of signings coming up.”
The league is entering a new era that will eliminate barriers and change the landscape of junior hockey in Canada, said BCHL chairman Graham Fraser, also majority owner of the Penticton Vees.
“Under the current system, that’s just not possible; the rules were set against us and we didn’t understand why,” said Fraser. “We didn’t understand these barriers. They made no sense. This has been a long time coming. We spent five years trying to make this work [in talks with Hockey Canada]. We’re not being arrogant. We did everything we could to stay within the system. We had to make this move.”
The 18 BCHL teams will now be able to recruit any U18 players in the country who are interested in the Junior A route, many of whom previously went to the American-based USHL or NAHL due to provincial cross-border restrictions in Canada.
“We believe U18 players should have two development paths in Canada – major-junior leading to the National Hockey League being one and college-tracking junior leading to a US college and then the NHL being the other,” said BCHL chief executive officer Chris Hebb. “Both are important. Both should be supported.”
There were 411 BCHL alumni on US collegiate NCAA rosters this past season, which accounted for nearly one-quarter of all the players in division one. A total of 104 former BCHL players skated in the 2023 NCAA division one tournament, including 14 on the champion Quinnipiac team.
~ With files from Victoria Times Colonist.