BCHL Commissioner Hebb says league could expand to 20 teams

BCHL Commissioner Chris Hebb was a guest with Matt Sekeres and Blake Price on TSN 1040 on Wednesday during the station’s weekly interview with personnel from around the league. Hebb’s appearance featured quite a bit of talk about the reasoning behind the move from three divisions to two conferences. He also touched on expansion for the league and broke news on where the 2020 Showcase Festival will be located.

Spruce Kings played a role in league moving to two Conference format

Since 2012, much has been made about the Spruce Kings being a member of the Mainland Division, despite the city of Prince George’s geographic location in the northern interior of BC. Hebb noted during the interview that moving Prince George to the Interior Conference was the biggest element to facilitate change. He added that the change will be different for the Spruce Kings in that they won’t be able to visit the Lower Mainland of BC and play two to three games before heading back up north.

“They’re a great franchise and certainly felt this was the right move for the league. Their General Manager Mike Hawes sits on our competition committee, it was that committee who came up with this format and the governors voted for it,” explained Hebb.

New conference format might set up for expansion

With the addition of Wenatchee in 2015 and Cranbrook next season as expansion teams, it marks the most active expansion since 2001 and 2002 when Coquitlam, Salmon Arm and Williams Lake joined the BCHL. Hebb says the move to an Interior Conference and Coastal Conference set-up will likely set the table for future expansion, either in the Lower Mainland or on Vancouver Island, as well as in BC’s Interior.

“Getting Cranbrook in the Interior Conference and then moving Prince George in there obviously made a lot of sense. We thank the Spruce Kings for going along with that idea and it’s just a simpler way for us to break down the league and put ourselves in a place to have expansion someday, whether it’s in that side of the province, or out this way, we don’t know, but it may end up being a 20 team league one day.”

New playoff format for next season

One of the biggest questions asked when the league announced the new alignment on Monday was how it would affect the format for the Fred Page Cup playoffs. During Wednesday’s interview, Price asked if – as logically suggested – the top eight of nine teams in each conference would make the playoffs under the new conference structure, Hebb replied, “Yeah, that’s what’s going to happen, so we’ll have two teams that won’t make the playoffs. Currently, we just have one team that doesn’t make the playoffs, but we’ll go to eight and eight.”

The playoff format will mirror the NHL’s former format of all teams playing in the first round: first-place versus eighth, second versus seventh, third versus sixth and fourth versus fifth in each respective conference.  Based on this season’s standings heading into tonight’s games, here’s how the match-ups would shake down using next season’s format (minus Cranbrook because it’s impossible to predict where the Bucks finish at the end of 2020-21).

Coastal Conference

(1) Coquitlam vs. (8) Langley
(2) Cowichan Valley vs. (7) Surrey
(3) Nanaimo vs. (6) Alberni Valley
(4) Chilliwack vs. (5) Powell River

Interior Conference

(1) Penticton vs. (8) Merritt
(2) Trail vs. (7) West Kelowna
(3) Salmon Arm vs. (6) Prince George
(4) Vernon vs. (5) Wenatchee

Salmon Arm to host 2020 BCHL Showcase

The BCHL expanded the Showcase for 2019, moving it from one venue to two. Chilliwack hosted games involving Mainland and Island teams while Penticton hosted games involving Interior teams. The Vancouver Canucks announced last month that the YoungStars tournament would return to the South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton this fall.

During the interview on 1040, Hebb was asked about the potential impact of the YoungStars tournament on the BCHL Showcase and explained that the Showcase isn’t even in the Peach City this September. “We’re going to move the Showcase and go to a single venue. We’ve introduced a similar format to how Hockey Canada does their events. We actually invite our teams to apply to host and this year, Salmon Arm was selected as the host of next year’s Showcase. They put in a bid and have already started in the planning stages, so the Showcase will be in Salmon Arm this coming September.”

Campbell River is on the league’s radar for expansion

During the segment with Sekeres and Price, a listener from Campbell River sent in a question for the hosts to ask Hebb about expansion to that Vancouver Island city. Hebb mentioned that he actually knows Campbell River Mayor Andy Adams personally.

“I have a personal relationship with the mayor up there and he calls from time to time to emphasize that Campbell River would be a good market for a BCHL team and there’s no question that we’re keeping our eye on the developments with their arena. Having another team on the Island would help that Division, so having the BCHL in Campbell River is not out of the question.”