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Changing for the better — KIJHL kicks off season

Leafs Jack Karran and KIJHL president Larry Martel (inset photo) have been hand picked as leaders for the upcoming Junior B season, beginning Friday. — Bruce Fuhr, The Nelson Daily

It’s been said that variety is the spice of life.

That can also be said for the upcoming edition of the Kootenay International Hockey League as the Junior B circuit opens the 2018-19 season Friday, with a few changes — some good, and some not so good.

“It’s a wonderful game the KIJHL,” interim KI president Larry Martel told The Nelson Daily on the eve of his first season at the helm of the Junior B league.

Martel took over from long time president Bill Ohlhausen, who stepped down following years of service as president in the spring. The league is currently looking for a full-time replacement to take over running of the league.

“I travel around to all the rinks and see first-hand these very talented players,” Martel added.

Nelson Leafs fresh from a 3-1 exhibition campaign, opens Friday at home against the North Okanagan Knights at 7 p.m. in the NDCC Arena. In Grand Forks, the Border Bruins meet Princeton Posse in another interlocking contest. Saturday, the Bruins host Columbia Valley Rockies.

The fact the Knights are the Leafs first opponent this season is one of the positive changes according to Martel after governors voted to return to an interlocking schedule during the June AGM at Sun Peaks Resort.

“Now some Murdoch division fans get to see Kelowna’s Brody Dale and Birks division fans see Nelson’s Shawn Campbell,” Martel said.

The change sees Murdoch teams playing three home, three away within the division; 15 against inter-conference teams (2 home 1 away or 1 home 2 away with teams in Eddie Mountain); then 10 games versus Okanagan conference teams. 

This year, Okanagan teams will come to the Murdoch and Murdoch will travel to play Birks teams this season that reverses next year for a total of 49 games. One of Nelson's home games is December 28th in Kamloops as part of the Showcase Tournament where KI is expecting as many as 37 college and numerous Junior A scouts attending.

The Bruins meet Revelstoke Grizzlies at the Showcase Tournament. Last year, teams played 47 games with no crossover.

“This 49-game schedule isn’t perfect from a cost saving model for the KI teams, but our fans will enjoy seeing new teams and star players from the other conference during the season,” Martel explained.   

On the ice, fans will see players wearing full-face cages similar to minor hockey games. The decision was made during the summer by BC Hockey.

“We knew it would come one day but the way (decision) was made wasn’t very democratic,” Martel said. “CHL (Canadian Hockey League) teams aren’t required but Junior B which falls under BC Hockey is required.”

“Doesn’t make a lot of sense. Junior hockey is Junior hockey,” said Martel, adding Junior B hockey has hired a lawyer and applied for an injunction.

Martel said its always a challenge to run a junior hockey team, no matter what the level.

Executives mostly consist of volunteers trying to put the best product on the ice as they balance budgets by selling tickets, promoting games, finding sponsors, fixing the bus and reaching out within the community for billet families.

For the league, Martel says his executive is busy preparing for the ups and downs associated with the season — including dealing with discipline and guaranteeing there are officials for each game.

“Referees take a lot of pressure from fans, coaches and players,” he said.

“Most are very young and looking to improve their ability to be consistent and anticipate how the game is going and also get to higher levels of hockey just like the players and coaches are.” 

Martel appeals for patience during games from coaches, players and fans.  

“So many watching the games don’t have the patience or the same perspective as what the referee is seeing,” he said, adding so many factors influence the calls, and everyone seems to have a different opinion. 

“BC Hockey does a great job training and supervising throughout the season. Coaches really want consistency but that is a very hard to accomplish. I really like the job of referees do overall.  We have very good crews in the KIJHL.  We are always going to have good and bad games from time to time and honestly, we can’t always be blaming the guys in the striped shirts.”               

Martel is confident in the group leading the KIJHL this season. He believes Andrew Carr from Nelson, Harold Hazelaar in Invermere, Jim Harrington in Osoyoos and Kathy Merkel in Kimberley form a very good administration.

“The league has become much larger with a much bigger budget than what we saw even 5-10 years ago,” Martel explained “It will take some creativity and a different approach moving forward.”

“We still have other communities knocking on the door asking to add franchises to our league,” he added. “We really like our current set up of 20 teams and have a very smart hard-working board of governors that I report to.”

To some, the season begins too early. However, to fit the regular season and playoff games prior to determining the champion to represent the KI in the Cyclone Taylor Cup, starting the first week of September is a must.

So, let the games begin.  

OPENING NIGHT: Nelson Leafs took to social media to announce its team leaders Thursday. Grande Prairie, AB, native Jack Karran has been named captain while forward Logan Wullum, defencemen Kaleb Comishin and Michael LeNoury are assistants. . . . Nelson travels to Sicamous Saturday to meet the Eagles to conclude opening weekend.