The independent British Columbia Hockey League is expanding by five teams in the 2024-25 season. The league has confirmed that it has an agreement from each of the Spruce Grove Saints, Sherwood Park Crusaders, Brooks Bandits, Okotoks Oilers, and Blackfalds Bulldogs of the Alberta Junior Hockey League to join the BCHL and move away from Hockey Canada and the Canadian Junior Hockey League.
The BCHL will have to do some realignment to accommodate the new teams. This is how I see realignment shaking down and how it will impact the BCHL’s playoffs while trying to reduce travel strain as much as possible.
The first thing is the names of the divisions. There will have to be a slight change to them, including the return of the classic Mainland and Island Divisions. My proposed new division names are Interior West and Interior East, or Interior and Alberta divisions.
Coastal Conference (10 teams)
Mainland Division (five teams)
- Coquitlam Express
- Chilliwack Chiefs
- Langley Rivermen
- Surrey Eagles
- Prince George Spruce Kings
This is a return to the Mainland Division alignment in place from 2012 to 2022. It came after the Chiefs and Spruce Kings moved from the Interior to the Mainland Division.
Island Division (five teams)
- Alberni Valley Bulldogs
- Cowichan Valley Capitals
- Nanaimo Clippers
- Powell River Kings
- Victoria Grizzlies
This is the standard make-up for the teams on Vancouver Island and Sunshine Coast every time the BCHL goes to a three-division structure. Unless any more teams are added to this division, I suspect this will be the Island Division for years to come.
Interior Conference (12 teams)
Interior (or Interior West) Division (six teams)
- Merritt Centennials
- Penticton Vees
- Salmon Arm Silverbacks
- Trail Smoke Eaters
- Vernon Vipers
- West Kelowna Warriors
This is the Interior Division we saw over the years before Cranbrook rejoined the league. You could include Prince George in this division and move Merritt to the Mainland, but given the history of the Spruce Kings being in the Mainland Division for a good 10 years, that shouldn’t change now.
Interior East (or Alberta) Division (six teams)
- Blackfalds Bulldogs
- Brooks Bandits
- Cranbrook Bucks
- Okotoks Oilers
- Sherwood Park Crusaders
- Spruce Grove Saints
This is the new division of the BCHL. Given that Cranbrook is about seven hours away from the furthest of these cities makes perfect sense for them to join the new Alberta contingent in their division. Also, with the Bucks playing on Mountain Time for their home games, it makes the most sense geographically.
Blackfalds might have to change its team name from the Bulldogs since Alberni Valley already has it. That said, the BCHL could decide to go with it like the Canadian Football League did when Saskatchewan and Ottawa each had teams with the same name.
This is where it gets a bit funky. My guess is that the teams classified in the Coastal Conference, consisting of the Island and Mainland Divisions, will make one trip to the five teams in Alberta for the season and the Alberta teams will do the same. This format results in a minimum 40-game season with room for an additional 12 games within the conference and two games at the BCHL Showcase — totaling a 54-game schedule.
In my opinion, the BCHL’s Fred Page Cup playoff format will see the return of the divisional playoffs in each conference. This is similar to the National Hockey League where the top four teams in each division make the playoffs and play a best-of-seven series within the division for two rounds. Then the winners of each division meet in the conference championships.
This format almost guarantees that one Alberta team will make it to the final four and helps limit travel to within the divisions until the Conference finals and Fred Page Cup championship final.
If this expansion is successful, there is the potential for more teams from Alberta to join the BCHL. If that happens, there could be two conferences between the two provinces. The winner of each of those would collide in the championship final, essentially bringing back the old Doyle Cup crown that used to decide the champion of B.C. and Alberta junior A hockey.