Splitting with Hockey Canada means more talent on the ice, says Coquitlam Express GM

photo supplied Coquitlam Express

From Tali Campbell’s perspective, the move toward independence was long overdue.

On May 1, when the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) announced their intention to leave Hockey Canada and form their own independent league in June, Campbell said he pictured an influx of new talent hitting the ice next fall.

“I think you’ll see a 30 to 40 per cent increase in the talent level in the BCHL,” said Campbell, general manager of the Coquitlam Express.


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The BCHL is a training ground for teenage and 20-year-old hockey players who are looking to play at the university level. Ending the longstanding partnership with Hockey Canada is intended to help the newly independent league bring in high-level U-18 players from across the country and the world.

Opening the door to hockey players in the United States and Europe could mean a surge of new international talent coming to local rinks, including Coquitlam, this fall.

Other leagues that are members of the CHL, including the Western Hockey League, are already allowed to recruit international players.

Campbell said it’s only fair the BCHL is able to widen the player pool in their league.

“The WHL, the QMJHL, the OHL, major junior leagues are allowed to take international players,” Campbell said. “Why are we not allowed to?”

The previous BCHL rules were restrictive, Campbell explained.

“If a player who’s very high-end is coming up and from Ontario, he has to play in Ontario, he cannot come to B.C.,” said Campbell. “And the reality of it is, let’s call a spade a spade, the BCHL is the number one junior league in Canada.”

The pathways

There are two main routes for aspiring professional hockey players to take in Canada.

Sign with a major junior team in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) or enroll in a varsity hockey program at a Canadian university that competes in U SPORTS or a U.S.-based institution within the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

But both come with their own setbacks for under-18 players, who are considered “underage.”

If an underage player decides to play in the CHL, they will not be able to play hockey in the NCAA because the association views the CHL as a professional league.

On the flip side, an underage player who decides to take the college path is mandated by Hockey Canada to play Junior A hockey in their respective province.

Campbell said that framework was preventing talented high school-aged players from across Canada who were interested in pursuing college hockey from playing in a league like the BCHL — which could give them exposure to earn a scholarship in the NCAA or U SPORTS.

“How is it fair that a guy from North Vancouver, by the name of Connor Bedard, gets to play in Regina [in the CHL] as a high school kid, but a kid from Alberta, who is very good as well, who wants to go the college route can’t play in the BCHL?” Campbell said.

Last year, there were more than 400 BCHL alumni who played in the NCAA. Approximately 97 percent of B.C.-born players skating on NCAA Division 1 teams previously played in the BCHL.

“The BCHL sends more players to NCAA Division I teams than all other junior hockey leagues in Canada combined,” stated BCHL Chairman Graham Fraser in a press release.

The ramifications

As part of their decision to leave Hockey Canada, the BCHL will be tasked to find their own referees and an insurance provider. The league will also not be allowed to have players from a Junior B league fill in for injury replacement.

Following the BCHL’s decision to become independent, in a letter outlined by Postmedia on May 5, Hockey Canada added that any coaches or players in an “unsanctioned league” would be forbidden from participating in Hockey Canada-sanctioned events such as a high-performance camp or competing for a national team.

Campbell said the decision to not play for a national team isn’t new.

BCHL players have not been allowed to compete on a Hockey Canada national team since 2021, when the league split from the Canadian Junior Hockey League.

Following BCHL’s announcement, Hockey Canada released a statement recognizing the league’s rights to explore its own opportunities.

“Hockey Canada will continue to work with BC Hockey and its nearly 94,000 remaining participants to provide British Columbians with opportunities to safely enjoy, develop and compete in Canada’s game,” Hockey Canada stated.

Importing talent, developing locally

Despite the international expansion, the BCHL is keeping a requirement in place that mandates teams to have a minimum of five B.C.-born players on their roster.

“We want to keep a priority on B.C.-born athletes within our programs,” Campbell said. “The only difference is that they’ll now be playing with kids that are a bit younger, higher end skill guys we’re bringing in from out of province, and some European imports.”

Ultimately, Campbell said that the pathway to professional hockey will be different for each individual player.

Both the BCHL and CHL are providing opportunities for talented hockey players to showcase their skills for NHL scouts, he said.

However, Campbell believes that all youth who are playing hockey should have the opportunity to play against strong competition — no matter the league.

“Each kid has their own path,” Campbell said.

“We have to give that clear picture to every single parent in Canada.”

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