The British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) is one of the top junior hockey leagues in North America, and is one that some say is right up there with leagues such as the United States Hockey League (USHL). The BCHL has a total of 18 teams with 17 in the province of British Columbia and one in Washington State. The BCHL is one of 10 different leagues under the association of the Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL).
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Since 2011, the BCHL has landed in two former major junior markets that previously hosted Western Hockey League (WHL) teams. In 2011, the league moved into Chilliwack with the return of the Chiefs after the Chilliwack Bruins departed for Victoria and rebranded as the Royals. For the 2020-21 season, the league has expanded to Cranbrook, British Columbia with the addition of the Cranbrook Bucks.
The WHL’s Kootenay Ice relocated to Winnipeg in time for the 2019-20 season, leaving a void in the Kootenay region. BCHL venues vary in size starting as small as 1,000 seats at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena in Merritt, home to the Merritt Centennials to as large as 4,701 at the South Okanagan Events Centre, home to the Penticton Vees.
Unlike that of major junior leagues, which aim to send players to the professional ranks, the BCHL’s mission is to send players on to college. But that doesn’t go to say that players haven’t gone on to play professionally. Players have gone to college and then to the professional ranks whether it be overseas, the American Hockey League (AHL), and even the National Hockey League (NHL).
Looking at the 2020-21 Season
While the league didn’t get to finish the playoffs last season with COVID-19 cutting it short after the first round, there are plenty of changes abound for the 2020-21 season. The upcoming season will see their 18 teams play a 54-game schedule which is new this year, as in past seasons, it was a 56-game slate. The league will go from all but one team making the playoffs to two teams not making it. The league will also be going from having three divisions, which were previously the Island Division, Coastal Division, and Interior Division, to two conferences. The two will be the Interior Conference and the Coastal Conference, with each being comprised of nine teams.
The Interior Conference will include the former Interior Division plus the expansion Cranbrook Bucks and Prince George Spruce Kings, who played in the Coastal Division. The other teams from that division include the Merritt Centennials, Penticton Vees, Prince George Spruce Kings, Salmon Arm Silverbacks, Trail Smoke Eaters, Vernon Vipers, West Kelowna Warriors, and the Wenatchee Wild.
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The Coastal Conference will include the former Coastal and Island Divisions combined. Those teams include the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, Chilliwack Chiefs, Coquitlam Express, Cowichan Valley Capitals, Langley Rivermen, Nanaimo Clippers, Powell River Kings, Surrey Eagles, and Victoria Grizzlies.
Key Changes Ahead of 2020-21 Season
Digital gamesheets are also new to the league this season so they don’t have to use paper ones that are filled out by hand and then sent to league office after a game. The host platform for this is GameSheet Inc. and goes into effect after a successful trial run at the 2019 BCHL Showcase. In addition to this new technology, the league has extended its partnership with two other companies. The league will continue its agreement with HockeyTech, which is used for the league website, stats, standings, and game streaming through Hockey TV. The BCHL will also continue its agreement with Bauer Hockey which supplies its jerseys, apparel, and equipment.
The league is also further cracking down on fighting majors. Up until this season, a player would receive supplemental discipline after their fifth fight. For the 2020-21 season that’s changing to their second fight. Under the Charging Rule 6.3, any forceful hit that comes from a player’s blindside outside their 90-degree sightline will be declared a charge. Slew footing will now fall under the category with clipping and kneeing as an accumulation category. A player would be assessed a four-minute double-minor or match penalty, depending on how severe the referee determines it to be.
The BCHL is a great league for small to mid-size markets, similar to that of major junior leagues like the WHL. One of the main differences between regional Major Junior and Junior A leagues is simply the fact that the WHL focuses on sending players to professional ranks by mimicking the long professional style season. The BCHL plays a shorter season but focuses on sending kids to college hockey where they can also get an education, but when it comes down to it, the BCHL is still great hockey.