Absent BCHL continues to be a hot topic at Centennial Cup


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PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE — Nine junior A hockey leagues are participating at the Centennial Cup here this week but the league not taking part in the festivities continues to make the biggest news.

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PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE — Nine junior A hockey leagues are participating at the Centennial Cup here this week but the league not taking part in the festivities continues to make the biggest news.

The B.C. Hockey League, which last participated in the national junior A championship in 2019, took its independence a step further earlier this month when it announced it would be splitting from Hockey Canada, effective June 1.

The BCHL, widely considered to be the most competitive junior A league in the country, has long chaffed under the direction of the sport’s governing body. A major point of contention is Hockey Canada’s policy preventing under-18 players from relocating to play for an out-of-province team.


CJHL president Andy Harkness says Hockey Canada’s policy regarding the BCHL is clear.

“Right now they have to stay within their branch unless they’re at the major-junior level,” said Andy Harkness, president of the Canadian Junior Hockey League, which serves as the umbrella organization for junior A hockey. “So, obviously it would affect the player pool. In our conversations, I know our commissioners are talking to their teams and leagues and saying, ‘Make sure you’ve got a program where these kids want to stay home and play hockey.”

Harkness said Hockey Canada’s policy is clear. If an out-of-province player, coach or on-ice official participates in an unsanctioned BCHL this fall, they would be ineligible to return to their home province during the 2023-24 season.

“After Sept. 30 you can’t come back,” said Harkness. “You can take it to the national appeals committee if there’s extenuating circumstances but once again, a player can’t come back and displace another player that’s already in the system…

“That’s a big deterrent if they can’t come back. It’s a policy in place. I think buyer beware is probably the way of looking at it. There are repercussions if you do make the decision to go non-sanctioned.”

Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League commissioner Kyle McIntyre doesn’t see an easy path to resolve the dispute.

“I’m not sure if there is a way,” said McIntyre. “We all have rules and regulations that we follow and adhere to as part of the CJHL and Hockey Canada and if you want to play by the rules, you play within the rules. If you don’t, you take your ball and you go somewhere else.”

McIntyre said permitting 16- and 17-year-old players to leave the province is a non-starter.

“It would be tough on everybody and it would be tough on the AAA programs in those provinces,” said McIntyre. “Because Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba have strong AAA programs in addition to the hockey academies. Everyone wants the same types of players. Everyone wants the premier players and as families, they have choice…

“What do they want for their children? Do they want to fast track their children to go to the NHL, do they want to go to a Canadian university, do they want to go to a college, do they want to go NCAA. There’s lots of choices for players and families and ultimately they have to do what’s best for their kids.”

While the BCHL continues to the most prolific supplier of prospects for NCAA Division I schools, McIntyre said leagues such as the SJHL, with its 20 NCAA Division I commitments this season, are doing good work, too.

“My own personal opinion — and not the position of the CJHL and SJHL — is if you’re a good player and you’re playing on a good team and you do the right things as a player and you have good skill and good hockey IQ and you’re a good teammate, they’re gonna find you regardless of where you are.” he said. “I don’t think it matters where you play. The scouts are going to find you.”


Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.


Updated on Tuesday, May 16, 2023 8:34 PM CDT: Fixes number of junior A hockey leagues participating

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