The BCHL confirmed Saturday that five Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) teams will join the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) next season.
The teams include the Sherwood Park Crusaders, Spruce Grove Saints, Brooks Bandits, Blackfalds Bulldogs and Okotoks Oilers.
“The British Columbia Hockey League has announced that it has come to terms with five Alberta-based teams to join the league for the 2024-25 season,” the BCHL said on its website Saturday. The statement went on to provide information about the structure that will be announced in the coming weeks. “There will be no further comment until more information is available.”
“Complete surprise, this a league that’s going through some changes,” said Brenden Escott, a sports reporter with Corus Entertainment’s 630 CHED. “We’ve seen some different ownership groups come through– Blackfalds being the newest team of course, but maybe this a signal of where some of the other provincial associations are looking to go.”
The BCHL now grows from 17 teams to 22 while the AJHL will be reduced from 16 to 11. The future of the remaining teams in the AJHL remains unclear, bringing a major change to the league which formed in 1964.
Global News reached out the AJHL for comment but a league spokesperson reply and said the league would not be commenting at this time.
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“I think seeing the teams that have formed to make this initial exodus, those are very powerful teams within the Alberta junior league and so I’m certainly curious about who will follow and what status that leaves the Alberta junior league in, is it even considered junior A hockey moving forward” Escott continued. “Alot of this has to do with ownership dollars too, so that’s something that we’re going to have to keep a keen eye on.”
In AJHL standings Brooks was in first place with 78 points, followed by Sherwood Park (73), Okotoks (66) and Blackfalds (63) as of Saturday. Of the five teams jumping ship to B.C., only Spruce Grove wasn’t in the top five. The Saints are 12th in league standings with 41 points.
The news also came with the BCHL hosting its all-star weekend in Penticton.
“It’s shedding light on just how many restrictions come with a membership to Hockey Canada,” Escott added.
Essentially when you lose these restrictions, it opens up different player markets to different provinces and even Europe, it might mean fewer opportunities for some of these local players, it’s going to make things a lot more competitive, it could be good in terms of the product that’s out there on the ice but in terms of growing and developing local hockey talent it’s certainly something that they will have to monitor.”
Last June, the BCHL left Hockey Canada, becoming an independent league. By doing so, the league lost Hockey Canada privileges, such as its players competing on national teams.
However, the decision enabled the BCHL to do whatever it wanted, such as crossing provincial borders to attract players — something it couldn’t do under Hockey Canada rules.
Escott pointed to the Brook Bandits as an example.
“When Cale Macar went to the NHL, he was a fourth overall draft pick and that was a huge boost to the league, but the Brooks Bandits didn’t get any sort of development fee as sort of an award,” Escott said. “Hockey Canada does give that out to it’s members it CHL so the Western Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey League, that sort of thing. When you step away from those restrictions from Hockey Canada, not only do you get access to fewer roster restrictions but potentially more money on the table.”
“Leaving Hockey Canada was a long process, a difficult decision,” BCHL CEO Chris Hebb told Jay Janower of Global News on Saturday morning. “We have no animosity towards the federation. But in order for us to grow, we needed to have our hands on the wheel. And now what we’re doing is something that I believe, across the country, that other leagues are watching. And they’re very interested in seeing exactly what it looks like to be independent of Hockey Canada. What we want is our players to come and have a great experience in the BCHL, especially kids that can get college commitments out of their hockey skills and move on to be educated as a result of that.”
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