As players age out of their junior hockey programs, the goal is always to take the next step. That is true for the 20-year-old players in the Junior B Kootenay International Junior Hockey League. They were looking to use this year as a stepping stone into Junior A or perhaps an opportunity for college hockey.
But for this year’s 20-year-olds it was not a normal season. It barely got started in October before it was stopped by provincial health orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. Then it was delayed, delayed again, and finally as the province once again extended the health orders in the first week of February, the league made the difficult decision to cancel the season.
This leaves the 20-year-old players in a bit of a spot. They haven’t been able to showcase their skills to interested scouts.
Is there anything the league could do to provide an opportunity for these players? Perhaps allow them to play again next year?
KIJHL Commissioner Jeff Dubois says it’s not a simple question, but it certainly has been asked in the days since the season was cancelled.
“We are going to look at a number of different possibilities,” he said. “But giving the guys an extra year of eligibility is complex.”
Dubois says it’s more than just a league decision.
“BC Hockey would have to be involved and we have three leagues in this province that play in the provincial championship at the end of the season (the Cyclone Taylor Cup).”
He says the only way there could be a big departure from roster guidelines was if all three leagues were on board.
“But this is only the beginning of the conversation. It may not be possible, but we’ve got a good stretch of time before next season to talk about it.”
Current roster rules allow for five 20-year-olds on any KIJHL team.
“If you add 21-year-olds it has a trickle down effect on the 16-year-olds,” Dubois said. “There would be impacts I’m probably not even thinking of right now. It will require a lot of thought from us and feedback from the teams and our partner leagues.”
In the meantime, Dubois says each of the coaches has their own pipeline to colleges and other coaches, and will be talking about their 20-year-old players.
“There are programs that will need players next year,” he said.