Hockey Canada offers lukewarm initial response to BCHL going independent

Following Monday’s announcement that the B.C. Hockey League has pulled out of Hockey Canada, the sport’s governing body replied to media requests with a written statement that was published in some form by a variety of media, including Postmedia, CBC, and The Hockey News. The statement reads like something a public relations firm had a hand in creating and it does not really tip the scales one way or another.

“Hockey Canada and our members are tasked with ensuring that participants of all ages and abilities can enjoy playing hockey in communities across the country, both recreationally and competitively,” the statement read. “While we feel strongly that our model for delivering hockey is to the benefit and safety of players, coaches, officials, parents, administrators, and volunteers, we recognize that the BCHL and others are free to enjoy the game outside of sanctioned programs.”

“Hockey Canada will continue to work with BC Hockey and its nearly 94,000 remaining participants to provide British Columbians with opportunities to safely enjoy, develop and compete in Canada’s game,” it concluded.

It isn’t a scathing indictment of the BCHL and its decision, but Hockey Canada’s statement isn’t a ringing endorsement either.

Hockey Canada has strict rules against independent or unsanctioned leagues, like the Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League, which has teams in Ontario, Quebec, B.C., and Alberta. Hockey Canada’s website states that any player registering in a non-member league will immediately lose all Hockey Canada membership privileges for the remainder of the hockey season.

With the BCHL leaving Hockey Canada, there are still a lot of questions to be answered. Many answers, I suspect, will become clear after the BCHL annual general meeting on May 25, Hockey Canada’s spring congress in late May, and the BC Hockey annual general meeting on June 10.

Potential fallout from leaving Hockey Canada

When the BCHL left the Canadian Junior Hockey League two years ago, one of the consequences was its players were no longer eligible to participate in the World Junior A Challenge. That event is co-presented by the CJHL and Hockey Canada. Now that the BCHL is no longer a member of Hockey Canada, the fallout could be that players are barred from participating on the Canadian Under-18 and World Junior teams, and the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge tournament.

Recent players to wear the Canadian maple leaf as members of the Under-18 team while still in the BCHL include Matthew Wood (Victoria Grizzlies – 2022), Tyson Jost (Penticton Vees – 2016), Alex Newhook (Victoria Grizzlies – 2019), and Dante Fabbro (Penticton Vees – 2016). There is only one player in history who was selected to represent Canada at the World Juniors while skating in the BCHL. Paul Kariya, as a 17-year-old playing for the Penticton Panthers, skated for Canada at the 1992 World Junior Hockey Championship.

Leaving the CJHL in 2021 also restricted BCHL teams from competing in the Centennial Cup, which is the national Junior A championship tournament.

The BCHL will also no longer operate under Hockey Canada insurance. In a FAQ on its website, the league explains that its insurance broker is Westland Insurance, and a comprehensive insurance plan for all players, teams, and staff was created under the guidance of Mark Woodall.

According to the BCHL, Woodall has worked with many amateur and professional sports clients including the Canadian Football League. On his LinkedIn profile, Woodall lists himself as a current instructor at the Insurance Institute of BC, and as Vice-President (1994-2007) and then President and CEO (2007-21) of Special Risk Insurance Managers Ltd.

“There’s been a ton of work behind the scenes to get us to this point, in terms of making sure we have everything in place that equals, if not gives us a bit more, the coverage we had inside Hockey Canada,” said BCHL Commissioner Steven Cocker in a Q&A with BCHLNetwork owner and editor-in-chief Brian Wiebe.