(This article was originally publishedon Jan. 30, 2021)
BCHL expansion is definitely a sign of growth for the league. It’s always an interesting debate to talk about which community could be the next to have junior A hockey.
Prior to the addition of the Cranbrook Bucks at the start of the 2020-21 season, only three other expansion teams have joined the league since 2000.
The Coquitlam Express and Salmon Arm Silverbacks both joined prior to the start of the 2001-02 season. The Wenatchee Wild joined the BCHL before the 2015-16 season as an expansion club that previously played in the North American Hockey League.
Where will the league expand to next? Franchise location determination is based on several factors. Population, current and existing hockey history, suitable arena space, and geographic location all need to be looked at. Taking these all into account, let’s look at future expansion sites.
New Westminster (Coastal Conference)
With a population of just under 71,000 people, the Royal City is the largest community in BC that doesn’t have a junior hockey franchise. Geographically, Coquitlam, which is just 14 kilometres away, and Surrey, at 27 kilometres away, make New West the perfect place for a BCHL club to call home.
The last junior franchise to play in New Westminster was the Queen’s Park Pirates of the then-Pacific International Junior Hockey League. They left town following the 2001-02 season.
Prior to that, New West was home to two editions of the Bruins in the Western Hockey League. The 1971-81 New West Bruins relocated to Kamloops and became the Blazers. The 1983-88 Bruins moved to Kennewick, Washington, and became the Tri-City Americans. New Westminster also had a club in the BCHL called the Royal City Outlaws. They joined the league in 1994 and left for Prince George to become the Spruce Kings in 1996.
New Westminster is home to the historic Queen’s Park Arena which was built in 1930. The famed arena is where the legendary New Westminster Salmonbellies of the Western Lacrosse Association play. The Bellies and their history make QPA an excellent year-round must-see for any sports fan. A BCHL team should be able to reap the benefits of sharing the dedicated fan base and integrated marketing potential.
Osoyoos (Interior Conference)
Boasting the warmest average temperature in Canada, Osoyoos is the perfect BCHL destination for fans and players. Osoyoos would be the smallest market in the league with a population of just over 5,000, but the communities of Oliver, Okanagan Falls, Cawston, and Keremeos nearby. BCHL powerhouse Penticton is less than an hour away and would provide an instant rivalry.
Two junior teams have called the only desert in Canada home in the last 20 years. The Osoyoos Storm of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League left in 2006, relocating to Kamloops. The Osoyoos Coyotes were granted a KIJHL expansion team and have been in existence since the 2010-11 season.
Osoyoos is home to the Sun Bowl Arena, an 850 seat facility that although small, is an ideal home for a BCHL franchise. The number of local businesses in the Okanagan and Similkameen and the success of the aforementioned Coyotes would help create excellent marketing opportunities for the BCHL club.
Campbell River (Coastal Conference)
With a population of just over 35,000 people, Campbell River is the third-largest city on Vancouver Island. The city is often referred to as the “Salmon Capital of the World”. The city of Courtenay, with a population of 25,000 people is only 38 minutes away as well. The nearest BCHL rival would be either Nanaimo or Alberni Valley, both around 90 minutes away.
Campbell River is home to the Storm of the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League. The Storm was an expansion club to the league in 1997. Courtenay also has its own VIJHL team, the Comox Valley Glacier Kings.
The rink in Campbell River is part of the Strathcona Gardens Recreation Complex and called the Rod Brind’Amour Arena. The complex itself is home to two ice rinks and a pool as well.
The arena holds 742 people which, much like Osoyoos, is a bit on the small side, but with a strong hockey community created by the Storm and the city, a junior A club would surely benefit. Support from businesses and fans in nearby Courtenay would also be a bonus to a BCHL team based in Campbell River.
These are just three options for expansion around the province. Without a doubt, there are others who would vie to have the calibre of hockey the BCHL and its teams provide, including former locales like Quesnel, Williams Lake, Abbotsford, and Maple Ridge to name a few.
It remains to be seen if the BCHL pursues expansion in the near future. If it does, New Westminster, Osoyoos, and Campbell River would all make excellent communities for new teams.