The British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) has announced a new path, continuing its mission to build a world class college-track junior league for players seeking NCAA and U Sports Scholarships and to establish a tier of hockey that to date has not been seen in Canada.
To grow and create more opportunities for players and more excitement for fans, the BCHL’s Board of Governors has voted to not renew the league’s agreement with Hockey Canada, meaning its 18 franchises will operate outside Hockey Canada’s system as of June 1, 2023.
“The BCHL sends more players to NCAA Division I teams than all other junior hockey leagues in Canada combined,” said BCHL Chairman Graham Fraser. “During the past season, there were 411 BCHL alumni on NCAA rosters, making up nearly a quarter of all Division I college hockey. That is exciting, but we aspire to do more for players and to provide a higher level of hockey for our fans. Under the current system, that’s just not possible.”
“Our owners and governors are proud of how far we have come in recent years and have a strong desire to continue to grow and make decisions that are in the best interests of young players and families,” added Fraser. “Today, we are entering a new era that will eliminate barriers and change the landscape of junior hockey in Canada.”
Current system challenges:
Under the current system, U18 players in Canada making critical decisions about their futures are restricted in their options.
- If a U18 player signs with a Major Junior team in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), it disqualifies them from US colleges because the NCAA considers the CHL a professional league.
- If a U18 player decides to keep their eligibility and play Junior A instead, they are restricted to playing only in their province of residence (note: this isn’t a restriction for players in the CHL and the Canadian Sport School Hockey League (CSSHL) which includes players from the U15-U18 divisions.
- If a U18 player does not have a competitive junior option in their own province, they are often forced to leave Canada to play in the USHL or NAHL to find better competition, while maintaining NCAA eligibility. Or they must uproot their family at a significant cost to move provinces.
“We believe U18 players should have two development paths in Canada – Major Junior leading to the National Hockey League (NHL) being one and college-tracking junior leading to a US college and then the NHL being the other. Both are important. Both should be supported,” said BCHL CEO Chris Hebb.
The new era of BCHL hockey will include:
- More NCAA and U Sports scholarships: With a higher level of hockey, the BCHL anticipates more players will earn scholarships to Division I schools in the NCAA and U Sports while playing in the league. With the addition of more elite players, we anticipate creating a higher level of competition that will push our athletes, coaches, and teams to be better.
- Exciting new Events: The BCHL will continue to enhance its series of events, including the potential of a post-playoff tournament that celebrates the skill level of its players. Currently, the league hosts a Showcase event, Top Prospects game, Outdoor All-Star Event, and a Road Show to help increase the exposure and experience for its athletes.
- Larger player pool: The BCHL will now be able to recruit U18 players from other provinces, as well as from the USA and outside of North America. In addition, the BCHL remains committed to BC player development. Currently, 97 percent of BC-born players who played NCAA Division I hockey last year played in the BCHL. Current roster minimums for BC-born players will not change.
- Higher Standards: The BCHL will continue to use its new scorecard system with the goal of making improvements that will ultimately benefit all teams and the league as a whole. The scorecard was implemented in 2022 and covers all operating areas, including hockey operations, off-ice business standards, and facility infrastructure. As part of the four-year plan, the BCHL will eliminate player fees across the league by year four (2024-25 season).
- League Office Reorganization: Chris Hebb will move solely into the role of Chief Executive Officer, focusing on the future of the BCHL through bigger picture opportunities and alliances, while Steven Cocker will move into the role of Commissioner, managing the day-to-day operations.
Becoming independent was a decision made following nearly five years of good faith efforts to find a solution within Hockey Canada’s system. BCHL owners, governors, executives, and committees thoroughly explored all options but were unable to establish meaningful discourse with the governing leadership of Hockey Canada.
For the 2023-24 season, the BCHL has established a foundation in all operational areas, including risk management, health and safety, education programs, insurance, officials, and governance. This includes an increased commitment under the leadership of former NHL official, and current BCHL Director of Player Safety and Officiating, Brad Lazarowich. In addition, a comprehensive insurance plan for all players, teams, and staff has been created under the guidance of Mark Woodall who has worked with many amateur and professional sports clients including the Canadian Football League.
“Players and families currently in the BCHL can rest assured that we remain committed to player development and the standards of excellence in their day-to-day hockey experiences will not change as a result of our decision,” said Steven Cocker, Commissioner of the BCHL. “In fact, they will have access to even more opportunities for their future success. We are excited to embark on this new chapter and continue building a better league for everyone.”