The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) has submitted an application to BC Hockey to have the league and its members reclassified to the Junior A level, following their annual general meeting held on Jun. 17 in Sicamous.
If approved, it would mean all 20 KIJHL teams would adopt new operating standards designed to “enhance the player experience league-wide,” in the 2023/24 season, according to a press release from the league.
The application to BC hockey comes after an “exhaustive consultation process” with the league’s partners in minor hockey, which included letters of support from all four regional minor hockey districts in which KIJHL teams operate, in addition to 19 separate minor hockey associations.
KIJHL Chairman Brett Holt said that the BCHL’s departure to independent hockey has left “a major hole in sanctioned junior hockey programming in our province.”
“With the BCHL departing to independent hockey, we believe that we are in existing place right now to offer a solid alternative, an opportunity for really affordable, grassroots hockey. and just building on what we’ve been doing for 55 years,” Holt told the Bulletin.
“Not having a sanctioned Junior A league in B.C. creates a significant void that we are well-positioned to help fill. It was very exciting to witness the positive feedback from our partners at the minor hockey level and their enthusiasm to see increased Junior A playing opportunities for B.C. athletes.”
The transition to Junior A would be “rather seamless,” Holt said.
“We have pretty good programs in place now where athletes are on the ice an hour and a half every day, we have fitness programs and we have education bursary programs and our own dressing rooms and whatnot,” he said.
“What it does do is create an opportunity for BC hockey players to continue on the affordable growth path of playing hockey in BC. And that just builds on where we are, so it gives the minor hockey groups in BC Hockey an opportunity to continue their evolution into Junior A.”
When asked if there would be concerns about player recruitment to a KIJHL Junior A league, given the allure of the BCHL and its pipeline to Div 1 NCAA hockey, Holt said there are not.
“We have always moved players on to college hockey as well,” Holt said. “And what we are actually seeing are there a number of B.C.-based players that are waiting for this decision to come into a KIJHL Junior A program versus leaving the province into one of the other leagues.”
Holt explained the league has been in consultation with BC Hockey since June 1, around when the BCHL went independent, and have been working with them and their partners in minor hockey, and have received tremendous support from the four minor hockey districts in which all the KIJHL teams operate and 19 separate minor hockey associations.
BC Hockey will now take this to their board for a vote, and Holt says the league hopes for a decision in early July so they can implement these changes for the coming season.
If they succeed in becoming Junior A, they would then work with the Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL) and go throught their process to be inclluded in that league, which would then have a number of different impacts for future championships.
The KIJHL’s regular season is set to begin on Friday, Sept. 22, with all 20 teams playing a 44-game schedule.