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Wenatchee Wild’s move to WHL puts BCHL franchise in limbo

In a significant development for the junior hockey landscape, the Wenatchee Wild is set to embark on a new journey as it transitions from a successful British Columbia Hockey League team to a Western Hockey League franchise. The WHL’s Winnipeg ICE franchise sale to Wild owners David and Lisa White and relocation to Wenatchee marks a new chapter in the region’s hockey history. As a result of the move, the Whites will now try and find a buyer and home for the BCHL franchise.

“The Wenatchee Wild has been a strong BCHL franchise and we extend our best wishes for their continued success in the future,” said BCHL Chairman of the Board and Penticton Vees owner Graham Fraser. “As a league, we are assessing our next steps, including reviewing the best options for players currently on the Wenatchee Wild’s roster and addressing schedule implications for the 2023-24 season.”

Throughout its tenure in the BCHL, the Wild has enjoyed unwavering support from the community. Fans have consistently packed the Town Toyota Center, with the Wild placing second in attendance in the BCHL during the 2022-23 season with an average of 2,672.

In a news release on the Wild’s website, White expressed gratitude to the BCHL for the seven seasons in the league. “We are thankful to all those who have come before us and been a part of our journey, which began in California and led ultimately to the BCHL. We are grateful to the BCHL for welcoming us when they did, and for the great leadership under Chris Hebb, Steve Cocker, and Graham Fraser – we wish them the best.”

Impact on the Wild’s players

At the BCHL level, any players signed by Wenatchee for the upcoming season are now considered free agents and eligible to sign with any other team in the league. “We hope the majority if not all, can find homes in the BCHL,” explained BCHL commissioner Steven Cocker. The rights to the Winnipeg ICE players in the WHL will move with the team to the Wild.

As the Wild prepares to enter the WHL, the organization will look to sell its BCHL team. Any sale and relocation is subject to approval by the BCHL’s Board of Governors. It’s something that isn’t usually a quick process and might not happen in time for the 2023-24 B.C. Hockey League season.

“It’s unlikely (to happen in time),” said Cocker. “Our goal right now is to find homes for those athletes and continue with the positive momentum we’ve been building. This news today doesn’t change that.”

Wild general manager Bliss Littler is ecstatic about the potential of joining the WHL after being a junior A franchise since the 2008-09 season, first in the North American Hockey League and then the BCHL.

“We have always been an outlier in the NAHL and BCHL. This is an amazing opportunity for the Wild,” explained Littler.

As a BCHL franchise, Wenatchee earned the Ron Boileau Memorial Trophy as the top regular season team and won the Fred Page Cup as BCHL champions in 2018. The Wild claimed the 2018 Doyle Cup as Canadian junior A Pacific region champion and was a semifinalist at the 2018 RBC Cup national junior A championship tournament.