BCHL goes rogue: League set to part ways with CJHL

The B.C. Hockey League has become the Rebel Hockey League.

The Canadian Junior Hockey League announced Friday that the BCHL has submitted a notice to withdraw its membership from the CJHL, effective retroactive to March 24th.

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That leaves nine leagues within the CJHL.

“It gives us the independence we need,” said Nanaimo Clippers GM and head coach Darren Naylor, when asked about the issue, during a general interview about the early games so far in the pandemic-abbreviated 2021 BCHL Island Division season.

The move means the BCHL will not be eligible to compete for the national Junior A championship Centennial Cup, the former RBC Cup, which has been contested since 1971.

“We can have our own championship,” said Naylor.

BCHL teams have won the Centennial Cup five times since 2009 and 14 times overall. The Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League edged the Prince George Spruce Kings of the BCHL 4-3 in the last championship game in 2019.

“The remaining nine leagues within the CJHL will continue with their commitment to player development, through their partnership with Hockey Canada, and its members, as well as the National Hockey League, which includes the presentation of the Centennial Cup national championship, the World Junior A Challenge, and the CJHL Prospects game,” the CJHL said in a statement.

Naylor said he objected to some of the features in the CJHL, including its early annual start date in September. League play in junior hockey should start in October, said Naylor.

“It’s a broken structure,” he added.

Naylor also has issues with the weekly CJHL national top-20 rankings, saying many of the teams ranked could not beat teams from the BCHL that were not ranked.

BCHL commissioner Chris Hebb could not be reached for comment.

“After reviewing our options, the BCHL has chosen to no longer belong to the CJHL. The BCHL is not withdrawing from Hockey Canada or B.C. Hockey,” the BCHL said in a terse statement late Friday.

“We wish the CJHL partners well and look forward to completing our current season and returning for our 60th anniversary in the fall.”

The BCHL is considered the gold standard and leads all Canadian Junior A leagues in supplying players to the U.S. university level, and in 2019-20 surpassed its previous best number of players committed to NCAA Div. 1 schools with 166, up from 151 in 2018-19. That includes players such as former Victoria Grizzlies captain Alex Newhook, selected in the first round of the 2019 NHL draft by the Colorado Avalanche, and named 2019-20 NCAA rookie of the year with Boston College, before winning the silver medal with Canada in the 2021 world junior championship. Newhook was among the 94 BCHL alumni in the 2021 NCAA tournament with 15 of the 16 qualified teams having had at least one former BCHL player on the roster. Fourteen former BCHL players made it to the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh this weekend, with Alberni Valley Bulldogs-product Aaron Bohlinger skating in the championship game today for UMass against St. Cloud State and its four BCHL graduates.

Naylor, meanwhile has his Clippers off to a 3-0 start heading into Friday night’s late-finishing game against the Cowichan Valley Capitals (1-2-1). Alberni Valley (1-1-1) meets the Capitals in a matinee this afternoon, while the Clippers play the Grizzlies (2-2) tonight. Each team is playing 20 games in the BCHL Island Division season. All games are at Weyerhaeuser Arena in Port Alberni.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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