BCHL set for regular season after controversial summer split from Hockey Canada

BCHL commissioner Steven Cocker said: “It’ll be great to drop the puck, because it will speak for itself. The BCHL is still there, the excitement is still there.”

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The BCHL opens its regular season this weekend, which means commissioner Steven Cocker has games to talk up rather than just having to answer questions about the messy split this summer with Hockey Canada.

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“It’ll be great to drop the puck, because it will speak for itself. The BCHL is still there, the excitement is still there. If anything, it might be a bit faster and more skilled,” Cocker said earlier this week. “We’re really exited to see what it’s all going to look like. We got an early glimpse in exhibition and if that’s any indication what the league is going to be, we’re going to be just fine.

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“When I talk to a coach I always ask about what he is seeing around the league and everyone is saying that it’s a faster game, there’s more skill. We often have NCAA coaches getting early trips in before their seasons start and one of our coaches said that an NCAA coach told him that this is the best our league has been this early that he had ever seen.”

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The 17-team loop has routinely been tops in Canada at having players with NCAA Div. I commitments. Cocker says the BCHL is starting this season with 167 of them. The league record is 190, set last year. The numbers are hard to gauge because there are carry-overs; there are players back in the BCHL this season who made their commitment last season who will count against both years. 

The BCHL pledged that the level of play in the league would jump when they announced on May 1 that they were cutting ties with Hockey Canada and B.C. Hockey beginning June 1. The BCHL felt for some time that Hockey Canada’s recruiting policies at the Junior A level were too restrictive. They had asked for changes but their ideas never received traction. They left the Canadian Junior Hockey League, which is the country’s Junior A leagues banded together to look after things like the Centennial Cup national championship, in April 2021. 

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B.C. has still won the most national Junior A titles, with 14. Ontario is next-best at 11.

As an independent league this year, they’re able to bring in 16- and 17-year-old players from other provinces, which wasn’t permitted under Hockey Canada rules. They also opted to be able to add two Europeans per team as well.

Whether any jump in play is truly noticeable to fans and increases attendance remains to be seen.

Being an independent league also means the BCHL is no longer under Hockey Canada’s insurance and can’t utilize referees or linesmen who want to remain under that umbrella. The same goes for calling up players from other Hockey Canada leagues. 

Hockey Canada has long had strict rules regarding non-sanctioned competition. That includes that any player who takes part in a non-sanctioned league after Sept. 30 isn’t eligible for any Hockey Canada activity for the rest of the season, even if they’re released from their non-sanctioned team. It means that BCHL players won’t be able to take part in national teams or go to Hockey Canada high-performance training camps. Similar rules apply for coaches and officials. 

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Cocker says that his league is taking that into account. For instance, Sept. 30 is a roster freeze in the BCHL, with teams needing to be down to a 25-player — 26 if you’re carrying a third goalie — final roster number.

“We don’t want players without opportunities,” he said. “We don’t want players to be in a situation where they can’t return.” 

Cocker says the BCHL has “about 30” players from outside the province ages 16 to 17. He says they have 38 players on rosters of that age group from B.C.

“It wouldn’t have been smart for us to have a goal,” he said when asked how many 16- to 17-year-olds from outside the province they were looking at adding to the league.

“At end of the day, what we wanted is for a family to not have to take out another mortgage and get a new address in B.C. for their son to play in the league. What we’ve done is given players an opportunity. If those numbers are 20, 30, 40 or 50, that’s great. Now it’s an opportunity for those families.”

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To eventually make up for the BCHL departing from Hockey Canada, B.C. Hockey announced in July that it was bumping up the three Junior B leagues in the province — the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League, the Pacific Junior Hockey League and the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League — to Junior A Tier II. The plan is eventually to have a Junior A Tier I league that will again seek membership in the CJHL.



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