First days of BCHL roster moves reflect a new world order

In junior hockey, June 1 represents the start of the new season as it relates to signing players, making trades, and registering players in the Hockey Canada Registry. This was the same for the B.C. Hockey League for every season in the recent past — until now.

June 1 is the date the BCHL officially became an independent league no longer under the Hockey Canada umbrella. As a result, one of the biggest impacts of the move is in recruiting. The BCHL made it clear that one of the main reasons it decided to leave Hockey Canada is because of the current restrictions related to recruiting under-18 players from other provinces.

Related: Hockey Canada’s non-sanctioned policy restricts BCHL affiliate player possibilities

Not only are BCHL teams now allowed to recruit under-18 players from across Canada but as of June 1, they can sign players from any junior hockey league across the country without any agreement of compensation, in addition to being able to add up to two players from outside of North America.

Non-North American players signed

The Cowichan Valley Capitals were the first BCHL team to make a splash by signing a non-North American player when they announced the addition of 2004-born forward Lars Petter Eckholm late in the morning on June.

Petter Eckholm is from Fetsund, Norway, but has played the last three seasons of junior hockey in Sweden’s Rögle BK system. In 39 games with Rögle BK’s J20 squad last season, he finished with 13 goals and six assists and added three helpers in six playoff games. Rögle BK J20 ended up winning the J20 Nationell championship.

He split the 2021-22 season between the Rögle BK J18 and J20 teams, notching a pair of goals in 13 games at the J20 level and 13 goals and 25 points in 22 games at the J18 level.

West Kelowna is the other BCHL team to announce the signing of non-North American players for the 2023-24 season as of this writing. The Warriors are bringing in 2003-born Swedish forward Viggo Nordström and 2004-born Norwegian forward Johannes Løkkeberg.

Nordström, who’s listed by Elite Prospects as a centre and left winger, was the captain for Luleå HF J20 in J20 Nationell, which is the same league Petter Eckholm played in. Nordström finished 2022-23 with 16 goals and 48 points in 43 games for Luleå HF J20 and chipped in with a goal and five points in six playoff games.

He also made his professional debut in two different levels of Swedish hockey. Nordström played one regular season game for Luleå HF in the Swedish Hockey League and one game on loan to Kalix HC of HockeyEttan, which is the third tier of pro hockey in Sweden. Additionally, Nordström posted an assist in his lone appearance for Luleå HF in the first-level European Champions Hockey League.

Another by-product of the BCHL leaving Hockey Canada is that now teams can recruit under-18 players from the United States. Previously, players were restricted to signing with BCHL teams only for their 18, 19, and 20-year-old seasons.

The first U18 player announced by a team this season is also going to the West Kelowna Warriors. He is 2006-born forward Callum Hughes, who is committed to playing NCAA Division I hockey at Boston University. The product of Basking Ridge, New Jersey spent the 2022-23 season with Mount St. Charles Academy 16U in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, finishing with 14 goals and 58 points in 45 games.

Vees nab the first Canadian Junior Hockey League signee

Like Eric Bischoff and World Championship Wrestling did with Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment in the mid-1990s, BCHL clubs can now sign players away from their competition, including their former Canadian Junior Hockey League partners. Whereas BCHL teams acquired CJHL player rights in the past via trades for any combination of players and player development fees, now they are free to recruit those players without owing any compensation.

The Penticton Vees are the first announced team to take advantage of the opportunity, signing 2004-born goaltender Andrew Ness away from the Fort McMurray Oil Barons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. Ness, who hails from Winnipeg, Man., had a 6-10-2-0 record to go along with a 3.12 goals-against average, and .914 saver percentage, and one shutout in 21 games in Fort Mac.

Ness is committed to Bemidji State University and represented Canada West at last year’s World Junior A Challenge in Cornwall, Ont. He got into three games for Canada West, which was fourth in the tournament.

Another unique situation arose with a trade that was completed on June 1 between Cowichan Valley and the Wellington Dukes of the Ontario Junior Hockey League. The Capitals acquired 2004-born forward Matheson Mason and 2004-born goaltender Ethan Morrow from the Dukes as the future considerations to complete the Jan. 10 trade which saw 2002-born forward Luke Strickland go to Wellington.

However, per the OJHL transactions page, the Dukes have traded Morrow to the Blackfalds Bulldogs of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. Since the Kingston, Ont. product has been traded in essentially two leagues, his rights sit with two teams. In the CJHL, the Bulldogs hold Morrow’s Hockey Canada rights while in the BCHL, Cowichan Valley has his rights. It’s now up to Morrow to determine which one he’d like to play for.

He’s a solid goaltender, with a 20-6-1 record, a 2.37 goals-against average, a .911 save percentage, and three shutouts in 27 games with the Dukes in 2022-23. He was also a member of Canada East at the World Junior A Challenge, playing six games with 2-4-0 record, a 3.66 goals-against average, and an .899 save percentage. There’s no doubt that Morrow’s situation isn’t the last to arise with the BCHL becoming an independent league.