Several months ago, the National Collegiate Development Conference welcomed a new franchise as the Rock Springs Grizzlies will join the league’s West Division for the 2023-24 season.
The team has several B.C. Hockey League connections. Rock Springs’ recently-signed 2004-born goaltender Merik Erickson played a handful of games for the Merritt Centennials and Nanaimo Clippers as an affiliate player over the last couple of seasons.
Speaking of the Clippers, there are two more connections to the Grizzlies. Rock Springs’ ownership group includes Darren Naylor and Wes Mussio. Mussio was the former majority owner of the Clippers and Naylor is a former head coach and general manager for Nanaimo.
This article is about the connections between the BCHL and the NCDC.
Both are non-sanctioned leagues
First, I want to note some similarities between each league. Officially, the BCHL and the NCDC are each non-sanctioned by their national hockey governing bodies. The BCHL left Hockey Canada voluntarily in June because they wanted improved recruiting opportunities for players, among other things.
When the NCDC was founded, USA Hockey didn’t sanction it as a Tier II junior A league. As a result, the United States Premier Hockey League has run the NCDC as unsanctioned since the 2017-18 season.
Recent events might cause the BCHL to leave Washington State since the Western Hockey League’s arrival in Wenatchee has left the BCHL franchise without a place to play for the near future. Despite that, it’s expected the BCHL will grow beyond its 18 franchises, as expansion is something the league talks about often. Likewise, the NCDC is expanding into the western United States. It’s another commonality between the BCHL and NCDC, both are looking to grow without the oversight of their country’s governing bodies.
Shared coaching experience
Although Naylor is a former BCHL head coach who’s now in the NCDC, there is at least one current BCHL coach who spent time in the league. Victoria Grizzlies general manager and head coach Rylan Ferster, who’s entering his 16th season as a bench boss in the BCHL, was head coach with the NCDC’s Philadelphia Hockey Club during the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons.
He was also an assistant coach of Philadelphia’s USPHL Premier team in 2020-21. In his two seasons as a head coach in the NCDC, Ferster’s record was 33-45-11.
As for Naylor, he coached and managed the Clippers from 2017 to 2022. In the 2022 BCHL playoffs, the Clippers fell to the Penticton Vees in the Fred Page Cup final.
There are a number of players with connections between the BCHL and NCDC. These are just some of them. A player connected to Philadelphia HC is former Victoria Grizzlies forward Owen Bohn. During the 2020-21 season, Bohn played 23 games for Philadelphia HC, and for 2021-22, he joined the Wenatchee Wild. When Victoria hired Ferster as general manager and head coach, he traded for Bohn.
Another player connected to Naylor is former Nanaimo goaltender Jed Baliotti. In the 2021-22 season, Baliotti played 17 games for the Clippers. The following season, Baliotti finished his junior career in the NCDC with the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs.
Another BCHL connection is Merritt Centennials alumnus Brandon Sacchetti. This past season, Sacchetti played seven games for the Centennials before being traded to the Sherwood Park Crusaders of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. After 25 games in Sherwood Park, Sacchetti jumped to the NCDC’s Jersey Hitmen.
One more connection is Surrey Eagles alum Jake Bongo, who played 28 games for the New Jersey Rockets during the 2020-21 NCDC season. Over the last two seasons, Bongo skated with the Eagles.
According to Elite Prospects, there were eight players who skated in the NCDC during the 2022-23 season who also had BCHL experience. Conversely, there were 39 players who appeared in at least one BCHL game in 2022-23 who have also skated in the NCDC at some point during their junior hockey careers.
Several of these connections existed before the BCHL was independent of Hockey Canada. The NCDC offered roster spots for players looking for playing time.
Now that both leagues are independent, I think the connections could deepen. BCHL teams might even look to swap players with NCDC teams as some sort of agreement between the two leagues.