The Osoyoos Coyotes hosted the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League’s annual general meeting this past weekend.
According to Phil Iddon, vice-president of the KIJHL’s Eddie Mountain Division, discussions stretched from expansion to discipline and scheduling, leaving no shortage of interesting news coming out of the league’s annual gathering.
Both Quesnel and Williams Lake have been home to BCHL Junior ‘A’ franchises over the course of time, but as it stands, both markets sit empty without any junior hockey to speak of.
According to Iddon, that reality could change in the near future.
Potential ownership groups in both Quesnel and Williams Lake have expressed interest in joining the KIJHL as expansion franchises in recent years, a topic which was discussed in length at the league AGM.
“Those are prime markets that once supported Junior ‘A’ franchises and are much larger than the average-size market,” Iddon said. “The communities are much more diversified, much greater population bases.
“They would be very strong markets and I think they will have some form of [junior] hockey up there, one way or another. Basically, they’re just on the outside edges [of the KIJHL’s geographical footprint].
“I think at least one of [Quesnel and Williams Lake] will apply for expansion status and to come into the league next year.”
As it stands, the largest markets in the KIJHL exist in Spokane, Wash. (population of 208,916), Kelowna (117,312) and Kamloops (85,678).
The smallest markets in the league exist in 100 Mile House (1,886), Sicamous (2,441), Chase (2,495), Princeton (2,724) and Invermere (2,955).
Excluding the three largest markets, which all feature competing WHL franchises and/or BCHL franchises, the average market size in the KIJHL is approximately 5,156.
Both Quesnel (10,007) and Williams Lake (10,832) come in well ahead of the leagues average market size.
With both Quesnel and Williams Lake sitting on the edge of the current KIJHL geographical footprint, any potential expansion into either or both markets may bring about other changes within the structure of the league.
Iddon suggested the inclusion of either Quesnel or Williams Lake could result in a realignment of divisions within the league.
The 100 Mile House Wranglers is the KIJHL’s most northern franchise and presents the nearest team to Williams Lake (approximately 95 km) and Quesnel (approximately 210 km).
The KIJHL constitution states the minimum expansion fee is set at $150,000 at the discretion of the board of governors, though can be changed from time to time.
The deadline to apply for a KIJHL expansion franchise is Dec. 1.
The KIJHL has introduced a 30-day suspension for players traded and failing to report to their new team.
“That’s a tough one, because you never want to see a kid not play,” Iddon said. “But what happens with texting, Internet, email and all that, there’s a whole lot that goes on behind the scenes in attracting players to a program.
“Players have the ball in their court…It’s easy to attract kids in a prime market.
“Right now, if [a player] says they don’t want to go somewhere [after being traded], we don’t really have any teeth that says the kid has to go there.”
According to Iddon, the intent of this new disciplinary ruling is help protect small-market teams that often see players refusing to report and end up dealing said player in exchange for little to no return.
It is expected that the KIJHL will propose this rule to B.C. Hockey as an item to be be adopted by all three B.C. Junior ‘B’ leagues (KIJHL, Pacific Junior Hockey League and Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League).
“Some markets don’t even get a chance,” Iddon said. “The kid just says, ‘I’m not going. I’m going somewhere else.’”
CHAMPIONSHIP REMAINS BEST-OF-SEVEN:
Following the 2015 Cyclone Taylor Cup, conversation picked up regarding the length of the KIJHL regular-season schedule and how many playoff games KIJHL teams play in comparison with other B.C. Junior ‘B’ leagues.
While the issue was greatly debated, the voting membership of the KIJHL opted to keep the league championship a best-of-seven series.
“Nobody plays as much hockey as the KIJHL does from Feb. 14 to April 1. It’s an insane schedule,” Iddon said.
KIJHL clubs play a 52-game regular-season schedule, while VIJHL teams skate in 48 regular-season games and PJHL squads play a 44-game schedule.
The 20-team KIJHL sees 16 teams qualify for the post-season, creating four best-of-seven rounds of playoff hockey and up to 28 post-season games prior to the Cyclone Taylor Cup.
The PJHL and VIJHL each qualify eight teams for their respective post-seasons, which feature three best-of-seven rounds (up to 21 games).
This concerns KIJHL coaches, managers and ownership, as the team representing the league at the provincial Junior ‘B’ championship is often on few days rest while having played a significantly greater number of games than the opponents it stands to face at the Cyclone Taylor Cup.
There was debate amongst KIJHL executives and team representatives how to address the problem.
Options discussed included making the first round (division semifinal) a best-of-five series, the championship round a best-of-five series or leaving the status quo.
“Do you make the first round a best-of-five? Then you penalize 16 teams that make the playoffs by giving them one less opportunity to draw [a home crowd] and make a few bucks,” Iddon said. “In the finals, only the two teams that make it there are sacrificing the opportunity to make the dollars and chances are that’s where the travel is greatest because you’re going cross-conference. The least teams have the possibility of suffering while the travel expenses were the highest.”
At the end of the day, the 2016 Cyclone Taylor Cup, to be hosted in Victoria, was pushed back a week from where it was scheduled in 2015 and KIJHL clubs opted to maintain the same playoff structure knowing there was set to be one extra week between the conclusion of the KIJHL championship and the opening of the provincial Junior ‘B’ tournament.
The Revelstoke Grizzlies have been accepted as a member in good standing after playing the 2014-15 KIJHL season under probation.
Prior to the 2014-15 campaign, a new ownership group headed by Ryan Parent purchased the franchise from Lew Hendrickson. A one-year probationary period exists for all new ownership groups.
“The group has been vetted by the franchise committee, but they come on board and you’ve got to make sure everything is on the up and up,” Iddon said.
“You’ve got to do a little digging otherwise sometimes you find out they’re not as smooth an operator.
“It’s a standard procedure. Every time there is a majority change in ownership or relocation or a new franchise, they have to operate on the up and up for that first year in order to get through the probationary period.”
According to Iddon, the Grizzlies operated under new ownership as expected by league powers and were accepted as members in good standing as a result.
Good standing is determined by a variety of factors, including but not limited to: paying league dues on deadline, paying on-ice officials according to proper procedure and having all staff certified and accredited appropriately.
“Once you recruit kids, the most important thing for each franchise, for their financial viability, is the schedule,” Iddon said. “A lot of time was put into the schedule.
“It looks like everyone has a pretty balanced schedule, so that was very, very important.”
With a tentative draft of the 2015-16 KIJHL schedule in the hands of individual team executives and managers, the final schedule is not expected to be made public anytime soon as tweaks and adjustments are made.
According to Iddon, it could be two to four weeks before the final 2015-16 KIJHL schedule is released.