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BC Hockey approves KIJHL move to Junior A status

Lone Sheep Publishing
By Lone Sheep Publishing
July 25th, 2023

During the mid-1990s, there was a movement in the Kootenays to court some of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League teams to join a Junior A League, dubbed the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League.

After a few years, the league folded and teams from Nelson, Creston, Kimberley, Fernie and Castlegar returned to the KIJHL.

Trail Smoke Eaters were the only team to retain Junior A status in the BC Hockey League while Cranbrook moved to the Western Hockey League and most recently, the BCHL.

With the stroke of a pen by BC Hockey, KIJHL will have its league reclassified as Junior A, Tier 2 beginning the 2023/24 season.

The decision came following a unanimous vote by BC Hockey’s Board of Directors and immediately vaults the KIJHL to Junior A status and provides an avenue for its clubs to have the opportunity to compete for a National Championship in future seasons.

“This marks a tremendous day for the KIJHL and for all BC Hockey members who aspire to play junior hockey,” KIJHL Commissioner Jeff Dubois said on the league website.

“We already have an outstanding group of 20 member clubs that operate at a high level on-and-off the ice. Operating under the Junior A Tier 2 designation with the opportunity to pursue Tier 1 membership in the future will help ensure that our league becomes even more of a destination for players who want to pursue their goals as student-athletes.”

The move, coming after the BCHL decided to form its own independent league, shifts the junior hockey landscape in B.C. and Yukon — a  transformation that will see the KIJHL, as well as the Pacific Junior Hockey League and the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League, each commit to an enhanced player experience and increased grassroots engagement.

This reclassification also ushers in an exciting structure for improved development for players within BC Hockey.

Teams will be subject to an internal BC Hockey standards tiering structure, with all teams starting as Tier 2.

“We’re excited about the opportunities this new pathway will create for junior hockey players in B.C. and Yukon,” says Stephanie White, Chair of the Board of Directors at BC Hockey.

“Having these teams dedicate themselves to raised standards, first to Junior A Tier 2, and eventually Junior A Tier 1 for some, will provide more of our talented players with a better player experience at the highest level in our province.

“BC Hockey is confident that this transformation will strengthen the development pathway immediately, and raise the overall hockey experience for players, coaches, and fans alike.”

As a new Junior A league, the KIJHL said the league will take its place in Hockey Canada’s Canadian Development Model, which strengthens the game at elite levels, in partnership with the Western Hockey League (WHL) and the Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL).

“The WHL is very pleased to see the progress BC Hockey and their members are making in building a new Junior A opportunity in the province of B.C.,” stated WHL Commissioner Ron Robison. “

The WHL looks forward to working closely with BC Hockey and their members as the new Junior A pathway is introduced and to the positive impact it will have in strengthening relations with leagues at all levels in the Canadian hockey system.”

As part of its successful application to BC Hockey, the KIJHL has made a number of commitments to increase operating standards and provide an enhanced player experience, including:

  • Cooperation and engagement with an independent advisory board to evaluate Junior A, Tier 2 teams and determine which may be elevated to the Junior A, Tier 1 level.
  • A rigorous process and analysis, conducted over the next three seasons, allowing individual teams and communities to find the level of Junior hockey best suited to them.
  • An understanding that the advisory board will soon add other requirements aimed at optimizing the overall player experience with the intent of increasing them each season.
  • An enhanced dedication to engagement with grassroots hockey in B.C. and Yukon, ensuring that homegrown players receive the opportunity to compete at this level.
  • An ongoing structure ensuring that teams achieving the Junior A Tier 1 classification are ready to compete against the nation’s highest-level of Junior hockey competition.

As part of its efforts to provide more opportunity for homegrown players, the KIJHL has committed to a three-year plan that will increase B.C. and Yukon player representation from 44% in the 2022/23 season to 52% by 2025/26.

“During this process, we looked at the number of players who have left B.C. over the past number of years to play Junior A hockey elsewhere in Canada and the United States,” says Dubois.

“Our goal is to provide the type of athlete experience that incentivizes those athletes to grow and develop their game without having to look outside their home province.”

Additional information, including the 2023/24 KIJHL regular season schedule, will be announced in the coming days.

— With files from the KIJHL

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