On Sept. 1, the United States Hockey League released the 30-man rosters for the 2021-22 season for each of its 16 teams. Of the 480 players listed, there are definitely a handful with ties to the BC Hockey League, including a number who were announced as commitments for the upcoming season.
However, I want to focus on the players who could represent true losses from their respective BCHL teams. If new BCHL recruits end up in the USHL, they won’t go on record as having played in the BCHL. On the flip side, there are four players listed on the USHL’s 30-man rosters who were active – and impactful – in the BCHL during the 2020-21 pod season.
USHL teams are required to make cuts to get down to their 25-man protected list and submit them to the league and USA Hockey by Sept. 20 at 10 AM PT. It means USHL clubs will collectively let 80 players go between now and then, which is why some could still show up in the BCHL this season.
Christian Fitzgerald (Surrey Eagles)
Fitzgerald is the most prolific scorer listed on a USHL roster who played in the BCHL last season. The 2002-born forward from Coquitlam, BC led the BCHL in scoring in 2020-21 with 33 points in 19 games.
The Eagles’ sophomore was especially lethal on the power play with 20 of his points coming while on the man advantage, including a league-best 14 assists. Fitzgerald’s six power play goals were tied for second-most in the BCHL.
The Minnesota State University (Mankato) commit is listed on the roster of the Tri-City Storm after being selected by them in the first round, 13th overall, in Phase II of the USHL’s Entry Draft.
Nicholas O’Hanisain (Victoria Grizzlies)
O’Hanisain was one of the few US-born BCHL players selected in Phase II of the USHL Entry Draft. He went in the sixth round, 90th overall to the Des Moines Buccaneers, who have listed him on their 30-man roster.
The product of Detroit, MI had two goals and three points in 10 games as a rookie with the Grizzlies in the Port Alberni pod this past season. The 2002-born blueliner added a goal in six games for Victoria during last fall’s exhibition season.
He was also chosen by the Muskegon Lumberjacks in the fourth round, 58th overall, in the 2018 USHL Futures Draft and isn’t committed to an NCAA school yet.
Joaquim Lemay (Salmon Arm Silverbacks)
Lemay is the lone BCHL player featured on a USHL team’s 30-man roster who wasn’t chosen in the 2021 USHL Entry Draft. However, he was selected in the fourth round, 119th overall, by the Washington Capitals in July’s National Hockey League Draft, the only BCHL player to hear his name called.
The 2002-born defenseman posted a goal and six points in 13 games with Salmon Arm during last fall’s exhibition season. Once the 2020-21 pod season started in April, Lemay put up 10 assists in 15 games.
He rode a mid-season seven-game point streak where he posted eight assists and finished second among rookie BCHL defensemen in assists. Lemay, who is committed to the University of Nebraska-Omaha, is in camp with the USHL’s Lincoln Stars.
Trey Taylor (Vernon Vipers)
Taylor, who’s committed to Clarkson University, is a 2002-born blueliner who already has three BCHL seasons under his belt after making his debut with the Vipers as a 16-year-old in 2018.
In 125 career BCHL games in Vernon, the product of Richmond, BC has a respectable eight goals and 39 points while being a stabilizing force in the Vipers’ defensive zone.
He is featured on the 30-man roster of the Youngstown Phantoms, who nabbed him in the third round, 31st overall, in Phase II of this year’s USHL Entry Draft. It’s the second time he was selected in the USHL Draft after Tri-City took him in the fourth round two years ago.
The start of something bigger?
There are a number of factors that could contribute to a player electing to sign to a USHL team’s 30-man roster. They could be influenced by an agent or scout. If committed to an NCAA team, it could weigh in on the decision for a player to join a USHL squad.
Or simply, the player could be interested in seeing what opportunity arises from playing in a different league compared to the BCHL. It could be some other internal or external reason altogether.
Before you think this is a warning sign for the BCHL, or that these players won’t ever come back to the league, that really isn’t the case. Every season, BCHL players are selected in either the USHL Entry Draft or Futures Draft, and players listed and invited to tryout by USHL teams, who still wind up playing junior A hockey in BC.
Photo credits: Fitzgerald (Garrett James Photography), O’Hanisain (Kyle Robinson Photography), Lemay and Taylor (Lisa Mazurek Photography)