Julie Pollard/Merritt Pro Photo

End of an era: Merritt Centennials leave BCHL after 51 seasons

The British Columbia Hockey League’s longest-continuously run franchise is no longer the Merritt Centennials. After 51 seasons in the BCHL’s smallest market, the Centennials declared they would not operate in the league during the 2024-25 season.

In a media release, Centennials President Ken Carruthers noted that the team’s board of directors didn’t see a financial path forward in the BCHL.

“The Board members past and present have worked extremely hard to maintain 51 continuous years of operation in the BCHL but have finally conceded that continuing into the future is no longer viable,” the release stated. “We cannot adequately express the gratitude owed to our community, sponsors, business partners, billets, volunteers, fans, staff, current players, and alumni. We have come to the end of our final regular season.”

Founded in 1973 when the franchise relocated to the Nicola Valley from White Rock, the Centennials have been a cornerstone of the Merritt community for over five decades. They provided countless memorable moments for fans, fostering a deep-rooted passion for hockey in the region. From the dominant seasons in the late 1970s and run to the Fred Page Cup final in 2001, to rough patches in the early 1980s and late 2000s, the Centennials are more than just a hockey team – they are a source of pride and unity for the city of Merritt and its residents.

Of course, the announcement of the team’s BCHL dissolution is a shock to many fans and supporters. Rumours have swirled for months and truthfully, years, about the financial struggles the Centennials have faced as a non-profit, community-owned team. Despite efforts to secure additional funding and support, the Cents’ board of directors ultimately concluded that they could not sustain operations for next season.

The reasons behind the Centennials’ demise are undoubtedly multifaceted. Like many junior hockey teams, the organization relies heavily on ticket sales, sponsorships, and community partnerships to cover operating costs. However, low attendance numbers, economic challenges in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and recovery from the city’s horrific flooding of 2021 exacerbated existing financial pressures. Additionally, increased competition from other entertainment options over the years and the rising costs of player development and recruitment likely further strained the team’s resources.

The loss of the Centennials will undoubtedly be felt far beyond the confines of the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena. For players, coaches, and staff, the team represented an opportunity to pursue their passion for hockey at a competitive level. Many young athletes honed their skills and launched their careers wearing the Centennials’ distinctive red, black, and white jersey.

Despite the shock around the announcement that this was the Centennials’ final season in the BCHL, there is excitement for their upcoming first-round playoff series with Salmon Arm, an opportunity for the community to bid farewell to the BCHL club in style.

There remains hope for the future of junior hockey in Merritt. Within an hour of the Centennials announcing that they were leaving the BCHL, the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League unveiled they were joining it as an expansion club under the ownership of Brad Anstey and Daniel Schofield.

As the Merritt Centennials bid farewell to the BCHL stage, they leave behind a legacy that extends far beyond wins and losses. They leave memories of determination, resilience, and the unwavering passion of players, staff, and fans alike. Though the absence will be felt, the spirit of the BCHL’s Centennials will endure as a testament to the spirit of a community united by its love for the game, one that will continue with the team now in the KIJHL.