Tag Archives: B.C. Amateur Hockey Association

BEFORE THE ICE: A HISTORY OF HOCKEY IN THE KOOTENAYS

by Ron Spence

The Stanley Cup was first awarded in 1893 to a Montreal team. That same year an arena was built in the Kootenays. It was in the town of Sandon, and a year later the Crystal Ice Palace was constructed in Nelson. The Palace held 2,300 spectators and was the largest rink west of Winnipeg.

At the turn of the century, Nelson, Rossland, Greenwood and Grand Forks competed with other rivals from the former towns of Sandon, Phoenix and Moyie.

SANDON, B.C.

SANDON, B.C.

Like the International Hockey League in southern Ontario and Northern Michigan several years later, this circuit was supported by a flourishing mining industry. Players were imported from the prairies and the Kootenay hockey was top calibre.

Kootenay hockey during this era was in contrast to the fun hockey in the north Okanagan centre of Salmon Arm, where games were played on the McGuire and Shuswap Lakes.

When Frank and Lester Patrick arrived from Quebec in 1908, they helped to build a larger open ice arena. Their Nelson team beat all of B.C.’s squads, but lost to the Alberta champions from Edmonton.

One future Hall of Famer who came from the Kootenays – at this time – was Cecil “Tiny” Thompson. He was born in Sandon in 1905 and would win four Vezina Trophies.

B.C.’s first professional players also hailed from the Kootenays. Sid Desireau and Frank Ogenski of Nelson played in the Patrick’s Coast league.

Kootenay hockey grew in popularity and a few years after World War 1, Kimberley, Cranbrook, Chapman Camp, and the logging centre of Wycliffe formed a league. Kimberley had built their rink four years before, and Cranbrook hosted their home games on a local pond.

Three senior teams from Trail, Rossland and Nelson registered with the B.C. Amateur Hockey Association for the 1922-23 season. Intermediate teams from Trail and Nelson did the same, and played Okanagan teams from Salmon Arm and Enderby.

Senior hockey flourished and two senior circuits were created the following season. The East Kootenay League consisted of Lumberton, Wycliffe, Fernie, Cranbrook and Kimberley. The West Kootenay teams were Nelson, Grand Forks and two teams each from Trail and Rossland.

A Kootenay team competed for the B.C. championship the 1922-23 season, and after a defeat, won the Savage Cup two years in a row.

The 1925-26 season the Trail arena installed artificial ice, which made it the Kootenay’s first covered rink. Trail won the Savage Cup for the next seven seasons, and the Kimberley Dynamiters won the Coy Cup as the province’s Intermediate Champions.

Kimberly also joined the Seniors’ competition the 1931-32 season and “imported some excellent players.” They won the B.C. senior championship the 1933-34 season, and the following two years. Then while the Dynamiters were traveling in Europe, Nelson won the Savage Cup the 1936-37 season.

Alberta teams from Lethbridge and Coleman joined the Kootenay Senior League the following year, and it was renamed the A.B.C. League. Trail won the Savage Cup and went on to defeat the Cornwall Flyers for the Allan Cup. The next season Kimberley won the Savage Cup again, while Trail was taking the World Cup in Europe.

THE SMOKIES WIN - 1939

THE SMOKIES WIN - 1939 - courtesy of http://www.trailsmokeaters.com

Trail and Kimberly shared the Savage Cup the next three seasons, prior to the War and then coast teams took the title while the Kootenay rosters were depleted.

The 1946-47 season, the old Kootenay Senior League expanded to include Spokane (Spartans) and Los Angeles (Ramblers) teams. It was called the Western International Hockey League, and actress Dinah Shore and actor George Montgomery donated a trophy.

Los Angeles lasted one season, while Spokane played for most of four decades – the league lasted until 1986-87.

Trail won a number of the Savage Cups, until Okanagan teams started to dominate in 1953. Penticton won the Cup twice, Kelowna once and Vernon three times. The Vees were good enough to win the World Cup, and Vernon, the Allan Cup once.

By 1960, things had returned to normal and W.I.H.L. teams won the Savage Cup twenty-three years in a row. Spokane cleaned up during the decade after 1968. They won eight Savage Cups in ten years, and three Allan Cups in five years.

The Washington city had the advantage of a 5,000 seat arena, and a healthy budget.

Still, the other major Kootenay teams did nearly as well. Trail won the Savage Cup four times, Nelson six, Kimberly three and Cranbrook twice from 1960 until the late ’80s. Trail, Kimberly and Cranbrook also won Allan Cups during this period. Other Kootenay teams that came and left, were Rossland and Elk Valley, which won the Savage Cup in 1988.

By the mid-eighties the Kootenay seniors were attracting only five hundred fans. People were watching live junior games, and NHL contests on television, instead of senior hockey.

The Kootenay Junior B Hockey League had started the 1969-70 season, with teams in Trail, Rossland, Grand Forks, Nelson and Castlegar. These west Kootenay teams were joined three years later by a Spokane, and two East Kootenay teams. Later, Invermere and Creston also joined.

Kootenay teams no longer dominate B.C. hockey, but their new Major Junior team has been doing well. On June 17, 1998, the Western Hockey League’s Edmonton Ice relocated to Cranbrook.

To showcase the Kootenay Ice, the new 4,250 seat Cranbrook Recreational Complex – called the RecPlex – was built. The Ice won the Western Hockey League Championship, and played for the Memorial Cup in 2000, and won the Cup in 2002.

The game might have been played in eastern Canada, but spirit of Sandon was there 110 years later.

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The preceding article was written for the BC Hockey Hall of Fame.

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THE B.C. (JUNIOR) HOCKEY LEAGUE

by Ron Spence

Background

British Columbia hockey was alive and well by the time that the West Coast Hockey League folded in 1926. B.C.’s first junior hockey championships were scheduled the following season, when the Vancouver Terminals beat Salmon Arm. The next year, when the Mowat Cup was introduced, there were nine eligible teams from the Kootenays, Okanagan, Prince George, Victoria and Vancouver.

Talent was evenly distributed, and Fernie won the first cup, Nelson the second and Vancouver the third and fourth.

There were thirteen junior teams by the 1930-31 season, and Trail won the fifth and sixth cups.

The Okanagan Junior “A” Hockey League was formed the 1961-62 season, with the Kelowna Buckaroos, Vernon Canadians, Kamloops Rockets and the Penticton Vees competing. The Kootenay Junior “B” Hockey League was started the 1969-70 season.

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BCHL Graduate Carey Price - courtesy of Tri-City

BCHL Grad Carey Price - courtesy of Tri-City Americans

The B.C. Junior Hockey League was formed the year before NHL expansion, and included teams from Kamloops, Kelowna, Vernon, Penticton, New Westminster and Victoria.

Fewer teams were included to maintain a higher standard. Additional junior teams were relegated to B circuits.

Three years later, Vancouver and Chilliwack joined the league in 1970, and the BCJHL was divided into Coast and Okanagan divisions.

The league’s first major problem arose when some owners wanted to split from the B.C. Amateur Hockey Association (Only three of eight attended the Association’s annual meeting.). These owners wanted over-age players, and didn’t want Memorial Cup playdowns interfering with their lengthy seasons. The Association compromised, allowing the owners to have four over-age players. The teams had to compete in Tier Two Provincial playdowns, however, and were told to discontinue any affiliation with prairie teams. A second problem resulted when some prairie teams started signing B.C. players without proper releases.

Nanaimo and Bellingham next joined the BCJHL, and New West, Vancouver and Victoria left for the WCHL the following season.

In August, 1972 the rival Pacific International Junior “A” Hockey League was formed. It consisted of six teams, expanded to eight, and became the Pacific Junior Hockey League two years later, when Seattle and Portland left. The league folded the 1980-81 season, and several of the Pacific teams joined the BCJHL.

With teams coming and going, the BCJHL formed two different divisions. The interior teams were Kelowna, Merritt, Penticton and Vernon, and the coast teams were Bellingham, Chilliwack, Langley and Nanaimo.

Some of the BCJHL’s best players starred during the early and mid-eighties.

Ray Ferraro of Penticton, Dan Hodgson of Cowichan Valley, and Craig Redmond of Abbotsford led the league in scoring. And during the 1983-84 season, Brett Hull of Penticton set a league record with 105 goals and 188 points.

Other NHLers, who once played in the BCHL include: Boston’s Chuck Kobasew (Penticton Panthers), the Rangers’ Scott Gomez (South Surrey Eagles), St. Louis’ Paul Kariya (Penticton), and Montreal’s Carey Price (Quesnel Millionaires).

The B.C. Hockey League has expanded into three divisions and developed into Canada’s best Junior A circuit. Three lower mainland teams and Powell River have been grouped with four island teams to form the Coastal Conference.

The eight Interior Conference teams range from Prince George, through the Cariboo plateau, and Okanagan valley to the Kootenays.

The winner of the BCHL playoffs is awarded the Fred Page Cup, and continues on to play for the Doyle Cup against the champion of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. The winner of the Doyle Cup then competes in the Junior “A” National Championship for the Royal Bank Cup (formerly called the Centennial Cup).

Over the past two decades, the Vernon Lakers (later called the Vipers), won the Royal Bank Cup in 1990, 1991, 1996 and 1999. The Kelowna Spartans won it in 1993, the South Surrey Eagles in 1998 and the Burnaby Express in 2006.

Courtesy of Hockey Canada

Courtesy of Hockey Canada

It’s great for the B.C. Hockey League, because four other provinces/areas have been giving them a run for their money.

The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League won the Royal Bank Cup in 2003, 2008 (both times Humboldt Broncos), and in 2005 (Weyburn Red Wings). The Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League won the Cup in 2004 and 2007 (Aurora Tigers twice) and the Maritimes Junior “A” Hockey League twice in 1997 (Summerside Western Capitals) and in 2002 (Halifax Exports). And two Alberta teams, the Fort McMurray Oil Barons, and Camrose Kodiaks won the Royal Bank Cup in 2000 and 2001.

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This article was first written for the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame.