BCHL Set to Celebrate its 50th Anniversary
Friday, November 25, 2011
The B.C. Hockey League has come a long way over the last 50 years and this weekend the league is celebrating this landmark season with rivalries and charitable actions. The 16 teams that make up the BCHL is a far cry from the four that formed the Okanagan-Mainline Junior Hockey League in 1961.
The league has gone through several ups and downs over the years but has always provided an option for high-end talent to develop with an eye towards the college ranks.
The league's 16 teams have paired off with one-another with their closest rivals in home-and-home sets today and tomorrow.
"The league has its ebbs and flows like anything . . . but we're successful in getting players drafted into the NHL and we're successful in getting players opportunities in Canadian universities and colleges and U.S. universities and colleges and we're successful in getting players into the Western Hockey league," said BCHL commissioner John Grisdale who is in his eighth season at the helm.
The BCHL was formed as a way to fill the hole for hockey past junior B in the Okanagan when the Kamloops Rockets, Kelowna Buckaroos, Penticton Junior Vees and Vernon Junior Canadiens met in a hotel in downtown Vernon and came out as the OJHL.
The New Westminster Royals and the Victoria Cougars joined for the 1967-68 season forcing the name change to the BCHL. Two years later the Vancouver Centennial and the Chilliwack Bruins made it an eight-team league.
The year 1971 was a turning point for the league. That year a divide was forged between major junior hockey and junior A hockey by the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association. The Cougars joined the Western Hockey League and the Royals were forced out of their arena by the Estevan Bruins, leaving the BCHL with six teams. The following year the void was filled by the Nanaimo Clippers and the Bellingham Blazers and has never again fell to fewer than six teams.
The BCHL finally legitimized itself to the rest of the nation when Penticton Knights won the league's first Centennial Cup. The Richmond Sockeyes followed in 1987 while the Vernon Lakers won two-straight titles in 1990 and 1991 while the Kelowna Spartans won in 1993. In 1996 the Royal Bank Cup replaced the Centennial Cup and the BCHL has won that six times with the Vipers claiming it four times, while the South Surrey Eagles and Burnaby Express once.
The Clippers have won the BCHL championship five times, including a run of three straight from 1976-78 and then again in 2004 and 2008.
But the league's main focus has always been to give players seeking a post-secondary education an avenue to get noticed and remain eligible for the NCAA.
"Each year we average somewhere around 90-110 scholarships," said Grisdale who will be celebrating the anniversary in Coquitlam on Friday night. "Last year we had 131 scholarships offered which was a record, the highest we had before that was 112."
The league has focused their resources on this weekend with rivalry games.
Most teams have offered largely discounted tickets in an effort to pack arenas as well as different promotions to create some excitement in their arenas and raise money for KidSport.
The Clippers (12-8-0-3) host the Alberni Valley Bulldogs (9-11-1-0) tonight at 7 p.m. and then are in Port Alberni Saturday at 7 p.m.
The Clippers view this as a chance to reinvigorate the fan base.
"Attendance is down across the entire league, we're not alone in that," said Clippers director of sales and marketing Jen Kennedy who is keeping an eye to next year's 40th anniversary for the Clippers. "We live in a great community with lots of things happening so we wanted to bring our team into the forefront . . . because we're convinced once they do they'll come back."
By Josh Aldrich, Daily News