The puck has yet to drop on a new season, but the Port Moody Panthers are making news off the ice.
The Panthers are set to become a Junior “A” hockey club this fall amid a wider shuffle of amateur hockey teams in the province, BC Hockey announced in a statement on Tuesday.
The Port Coquitlam Trailblazers, who are making their debut in the Pacific Junior Hockey League this fall, are also making the transition to Junior A.
Local news that matters to you
No one covers the Tri-Cities like we do. But we need your help to keep our community journalism sustainable.
Forty-five teams spread across three leagues — the PJHL, Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League and Kootenay International Junior Hockey League — will be elevated from Junior “B” status to Junior A, the highest level of junior hockey in Hockey Canada’s development model.
“Today marks a milestone for the Pacific Junior Hockey League as we begin our journey within Junior A hockey,” stated PJHL Commissioner Trevor Alto in a press release.
The news comes nearly three months after the BCHL left Hockey Canada to form their own independent league.
Before splitting from Hockey Canada, the BCHL was the sole option for players who wanted to play Junior A hockey in B.C.
But their departure left B.C. without a Junior A league that fell under Hockey Canada’s development model, said Brian Wiebe, general manager of the Port Moody Panthers.
“By not having a league in our province that filters players into that model, there’s definitely a void,” Wiebe said. “The Junior B leagues saw that there was a void and decided to put together a proposal to talk to BC Hockey to reclassify.”
The new proposal will eventually break the 45 teams up into Junior A Tier 1 and Tier 2.
All 45 teams are slated to begin under the Tier 2 classification, however, some individual teams may look to be elevated to Tier 1 — which would be the highest level of Junior A competition in Canada — over the next three years.
BC Hockey is going to create an independent panel that will be making the decision on whether to elevate a club to Tier 1 or not, Wiebe said.
Teams will be able to apply for Tier 1 status voluntarily, he added, and the panel will review the on- and off-ice details of a team before granting them the new designation.
“When I say operations, I mean literally everything from coaching staff to facilities to sponsorships,” he said. “It is really every facet of the organization.”
Wiebe said the Panthers would “likely” want to become a Tier 1 team, but would not say for certain if they would be interested in that classification without more information about what the new tier would entail.
A lot of questions remain to be answered on whether the Panthers will be making the jump.
“We really need to see what the nuts and bolts are,” Wiebe said.
“Port Moody, as a community, is it well suited to Junior A Tier 1, or is it more suited to Junior A Tier 2? . . . Does this make sense financially? [And] does this make sense structurally?”
Clubs that end up seeking Tier 1 membership would be allowed to compete for the Centennial Cup, a national tournament for Junior A teams across Canada.
Additionally, Tier 1 teams would be able to have their coaches and players selected to represent the Canadian Junior Hockey League at the World Junior A Challenge, an international hockey competition for under-20 players that is sponsored by Hockey Canada.
Regardless of the Panthers’ future, Wiebe expects the new Junior A label to bring more exposure to the team.
The Panthers had seven players on last year’s team go on to play for a Major Junior team or Junior A team in Canada as well as 12 in the previous three years who have gone on to play hockey at a higher level.
Wiebe said he expects the Junior A designation — especially if they make the jump to Tier 1 — to draw more scouts to Port Moody in the future.
“Port Moody has never had a Junior A hockey team before,” he said.
“It does draw more eyeballs to your organization, and by virtue, the city of Port Moody.”