Chris Hebb: BC Hockey League talks “a lot” about expansion

Could we see a BC Hockey League with 20-plus teams?

The idea that the league could add to its existing 18-team circuit might be more of a reality than it seems.

According to BCHL Chief Executive Officer Chris Hebb in an intermission interview with Salmon Arm Silverbacks play-by-play announcer Tony Trozzo on the BCHL Top Prospects game broadcast on Jan. 20, the league talks about expansion “a lot”.

“We’d like to see another team in the United States to pair up with our franchise in Wenatchee,” said Hebb. “We think there are a couple of markets in BC that could use BCHL hockey.”

The Cranbrook Bucks are the most recent franchise to join the BCHL. The East Kootenay city was awarded an expansion club in October 2019 and the Bucks made their debut during the 2020-21 pod season. They went 3-16-1 while playing out of the South Okanagan Events Centre alongside the host Vees and Trail Smoke Eaters. This season, Cranbrook is firmly entrenched in second in the Interior Conference.

Aside from mentioning potential expansion plans during the interview with Trozzo, Hebb talked mostly about education and the BCHL being the prominent path to college hockey as the league’s focus at this time.

“Mainly what we want to do is get more scholarships for our players. Right now, half of the players in our league nearly, are getting Division I commitments. One day, we’d like to see all of them.”

As of this writing, the BCHL boasts 181 commitments to NCAA Division I schools in the United States and two commitments to U SPORTS in Canada. Every team in the league has no fewer than three players with an NCAA Division I commitment.

Hebb also said during the interview that he feels the league is as strong as its ever been. “There’s been a lot of people (who) laid the foundation before I ever came to this league. We have a very cohesive ownership group, we make decisions as a group, and what we’re trying to do is get kids to college.

“We heard a stat in our Board of Governors meeting … that was shocking. We have more than 400 (Division I) players from the BCHL and there are only 1,700 players in Division I, so the BC Hockey League is doing its job and everybody should be proud.”

The sentiment Hebb expressed was consistent with what the BCHL presented in its document to modernize Canadian junior hockey last fall.

“I really like the way the players have realized that this league is an option for them in terms of their development. College hockey is now a legitimate track for many young athletes. Our coaching has (gotten) better, our officiating has (gotten) better, our ownership has (gotten) better, and now all we want to do is offer the best experience for a kid going to college in Canada today.”

It remains to be seen if that experience involves a circuit with more than 18 teams in the near future.