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

Every season, B.C. Hockey League teams rely on affiliate players to step into their lineups to fill in for those who are unable to play due to injury or any other reason.

While operating under Hockey Canada’s umbrella, BCHL teams signed players from teams in lower divisions or categories as affiliate players. Those lower divisions included junior B leagues, the Canadian Sport School Hockey League, and British Columbia Elite Hockey League. In 2022-23, in addition to the CSSHL and BCEHL, BCHL clubs signed affiliate players from the four junior B leagues in B.C., namely the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League, Pacific Junior Hockey League, Kootenay International Junior Hockey League, and Northwest Junior Hockey League.

Lower division leagueNumber of players on BCHL reserve rosters as affiliates in 2022-23
U18 AAA2

A player 16 years old or older could play up to 10 games during the regular season and playoffs. If the team in the lower division completed its regular season and playoffs before the player’s affiliated team, they could play in an unlimited number of games. BCHL teams were permitted to sign 19 affiliate players and if a team used all 19 affiliate player slots, two of them had to be goaltenders.

Essentially, because the BCHL and the lower division leagues were all sanctioned by Hockey Canada, the process was relatively smooth for players to move between the two leagues. Since the BCHL announced on May 1 that it is leaving Hockey Canada, both BC Hockey and the national organization have clarified their stances as it relates to players wanting to play in a sanctioned and non-sanctioned league. In a nutshell, it’s not allowed.

BC Hockey non-sanctioned policy

Hockey Canada defines a non-sanctioned league as any amateur hockey league that operates in Canada outside the auspices/sanctioning of Hockey Canada or in any other country outside the auspices/sanctioning of the member national association of the International Ice Hockey Federation in that country.

It’s key to note that Hockey Canada and BC Hockey consider the start of the hockey season to be June 1 while the final day of the previous season is May 30. That fact is key because Hockey Canada states it “respects the right of every individual at the beginning of each hockey season to choose between participating in a league sanctioned by Hockey Canada or in a non-sanctioned league”. 

Hockey Canada and BC Hockey also have a cut-off date related to non-sanctioned leagues. That date is September 30 of the hockey season in question. BC Hockey has implemented Hockey Canada’s non-sanctioned league policy and even strengthened it by stating that any player who participates in a non-sanctioned game after Sept. 30 is not eligible for any BC Hockey-sanctioned programs or games for the remainder of the season in which the non-sanctioned participation occurred.

This means a player is able to sign with a team in a sanctioned league the following season if they play in a non-sanctioned league the season prior.

A player who participates in a non-sanctioned league after the Sept. 30 cut-off date and wants to go back to a sanctioned league can seek early reinstatement of their eligibility. The player may apply to BC Hockey for reinstatement based on special circumstances. However, it’s not a guarantee that BC Hockey will approve it, even if there are special circumstances.

Where could BCHL teams get affiliate players from?

The Cranbrook Bucks recently announced that the Junior Prospects Hockey League is coming to Cranbrook in the form of the Kootenay Hockey Academy U18 team.

Although unconfirmed, the team is expected to be the affiliate program for the Bucks. In a FAQ announcing the formation of the Kootenay Hockey Academy, the Bucks noted that the JPHL is the only Canadian academy league able to affiliate its players with the BCHL. There are teams already located in Alberta as well as Langley, Victoria, and Kelowna.

Being that the JPHL is also an unsanctioned league, it is possible that there could be more BCHL teams looking to collaborate with JPHL teams or be like the Bucks and introduce new franchises to the now nine-team U18 league.

Could we see teams in the VIJHL, PJHL, KIJHL, or NWJHL decide to leave their leagues and join the JPHL? Or will some of the 47 teams from the already established junior B leagues in B.C. collaborate on creating an unsanctioned junior B loop? 

In a Q&A with BCHLNetwork, BCHL Commissioner Steven Cocker noted they don’t want to hinder a player’s ability to affiliate and practice with their teams. Cocker didn’t even rule out the BCHL being willing to reach an agreement with BC Hockey and Hockey Canada. “I think there’s something we can come to in terms of an agreement with the governing bodies,” he said. “As for now, it’ll be a wait-and-see approach we take throughout the summer.” 

Based on their policies, it’s seemingly Hockey Canada and BC Hockey putting those roadblocks up. Regardless of how it happens, BCHL teams will need affiliate players going forward, despite operating as an independent league.