By Jason LaRose, Hockey Canada
CHILLIWACK, B.C. – The 2018 RBC Cup marks the end of an era in the B.C. Hockey League, with long-time commissioner John Grisdale set to leave the organization after 15 years in charge.
Grisdale, who played 250 games with Toronto and Vancouver during a six-year NHL career in the 1970s, took over as commissioner in the summer of 2003 and has helped shape the league into a cornerstone of the CJHL during his tenure, including five RBC Cup championships for BCHL teams.
When it was announced Feb. 5 that this season would be his last, the CJHL was quick to appoint him a Life Member and introduced the John Grisdale Award, to be presented to the highest-drafted CJHL player taken each year in the NHL Entry Draft.
“His vision and willingness to work with all elements of the game have contributed greatly to the success of both the BCHL and the CJHL, as well as gaining him the utmost respect of his colleagues,” CJHL president Brent Ladds said when announcing the award.
HockeyCanada.ca sat down with Grisdale in Chilliwack to look back on the last 15 years, and look ahead to the future.
Hockey Canada: Why is now the right time to leave?
John Grisdale: It has been 15 years. It has been a part of my life where a lot of good things have happened, and it’s time to move on. It’s time for me to do other things, and I’m looking forward to that.
HC: What are you most proud of from your time with the BCHL?
JG: The evolution of the league. It has always been a good league, but we have been able to really put the focus on all of our programs and regulations, and streamline the experience. When a player moves from one team to another, the only things that change are the rink and the community, but everything else stays the same. We standardized that, players got full value, and more and more of them wanted to come to the league.
HC: What is the biggest change to the BCHL, and to the Junior A game?
JG: We’ve got a good, solid organization, and I think that the programs everybody is running are fairly standard and fairly close, so that’s the biggest thing. On the ice, skill has come back to the game. We have rid ourselves of a lot of the bullying and violence that were in junior hockey, and we’re seeing smaller, more skilled players having a place to succeed.
HC: What are the benefits of playing Junior A hockey?
JG: Junior A offers a kid that is maybe a late bloomer an opportunity to grow, play a little bit later, and now they can go to school, get an education, develop until they’re in their early 20s, and for some kids that’s a good opportunity. And if it doesn’t work out, they can always go in another direction.
HC: How much do alumni like Turris, Bozak and Jost help in the promotion of the league?
JG: Those players all made choices to play Junior A, whatever their reasons were, so when they succeed, when they move onto college and then onto the pros, it just creates that perception that Junior A hockey, and the B.C. Hockey League, are good places to develop and chase dreams to the highest level. One of the things I have always felt is that if you create a great program, and when you have 17 of them that produce players like Turris and Bozak, for example, the league gets the reputation it’s a good league, and players come because they want to emulate what they did.
HC: What has hockey given you?
JG: As a player, it gave me the opportunity play something I grew up loving, and chase my dream. As a coach and a parent, it gave me the opportunity to see my son grow, taught him values on and off the ice, and taught him to be responsible in the community. And as an administrator of a junior hockey league, it gave me the opportunity see kids achieve and grow. I still talk to former players, and to their parents, and it is always such a thrill to see where they have gone in life, and what they have accomplished.
HC: What comes next?
JG: I’ve got a few things I’ve been contemplating. I’d really like to look at some of the health issues that our players face, things like concussions and mental health issues, and try to work with programs like that that can provide assistance to players who need it.
Photo credit: Hockey Canada Images