Report: Five Alberta Junior Hockey League teams make bold move to join BCHL

Reports surfaced on Friday afternoon that in a surprising and unprecedented move, five prominent Alberta Junior Hockey League teams ā€” Spruce Grove Saints, Sherwood Park Crusaders, Brooks Bandits, Blackfalds Bulldogs, and Okotoks Oilers ā€” will depart from the AJHL to join the British Columbia Hockey League for the 2024-25 season. This unexpected shift will rock the foundation of junior hockey in Western Canada and has sparked a flurry of discussions on and off social media.

Neither league has confirmed the reports, but The Vancouver Province sports reporter Steve Ewen notes on X (formerly known as Twitter) that the plan is for the five Alberta teams to join an Interior East division that will also include the Cranbrook Bucks.

One can surmise that the decision to switch leagues stems from a variety of factors. While the AJHL has been a longstanding and respected league for junior hockey development, the five teams obviously feel a change is necessary to enhance competition, exposure, and player opportunities.

One of the primary motivations behind this move is likely the desire for freedom from Hockey Canada restrictions. The BCHL has instituted several roster freedoms that simply weren’t allowed when the league was under the Hockey Canada umbrella. Since breaking free of hockey’s national governing body on June 1, 2023, the BCHL now allows two non-North American players per team and its teams can also recruit Canadian under-18 players from outside of their branch, as well as from the United States and outside of North America.

Additionally, being a league that isn’t sanctioned by Hockey Canada nor part of the Canadian Junior Hockey League means it doesn’t have to adhere to the rules regarding facial protection. The CJHL and Hockey Canada have an agreement stating that beginning this season and in every season afterward, players born after December 31, 2004, are required to wear full facial protection.

The BCHL doesn’t have any such restriction as it relates to facial protection ā€” putting it on par with the Western Hockey League and United States Hockey, both of which compete with the league when it comes to recruiting players.

The move will not only impact the teams and players but will also have economic and community implications. Local businesses and communities that have supported these teams for years will need to adapt to the changes. The departure may lead to shifts in attendance, sponsorships, and overall community engagement. However, it also presents an opportunity for new communities in both B.C. and Alberta to embrace different opponents and establish connections with the incoming teams.

If it comes to fruition, the decision of Spruce Grove, Sherwood Park, Brooks, Blackfalds, and Okotoks to leave the AJHL and join the BCHL is a bold move in the world of junior hockey. While it poses challenges for both the departing teams and the AJHL, it could also open doors to new opportunities for growth and development. Regardless, there’s no doubt this unexpected move will reshape the landscape of junior hockey in Western Canada.