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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.


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