The British Columbia Hockey League says it is breaking away from Hockey Canada and will operate as an independent league.
The league says the move will provide more options for players under the age of 18 who are looking to compete in college hockey in the United States.
In a statement issued Monday, the Junior A league said its board of governors voted not to renew its agreement with the country’s national self-governing body for amateur hockey and will operate outside of Hockey Canada’s system as of June 1.
BCHL CEO Chris Hebb says young hockey players face restricted options.
If they choose to play with a major junior team under the Canadian Hockey League umbrella, they are disqualified from playing in the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the governing body for college sports in the U.S., which considers the CHL to be a professional league.
Players who choose to play Junior A, a tier below major junior, maintain their college eligibility but are only allowed to play in their home province. That rule does not apply to the major junior teams.
“There are two [paths] in this country, and we don’t think one of them has been recognized, and that’s ours,” Hebb said.
The move will allow BCHL teams to recruit 16-and 17-year-olds from other provinces and abroad.
The BCHL says it sends more players to NCAA Division I schools in the U.S. than every other junior league in the country combined, with 411 BCHL alumni on NCAA rosters last season.
Hebb says Hockey Canada is a good organization for most of its leagues.
“We think that our league, our junior A league, has broader aspirations and doesn’t fit the mould,” Hebb said.
“Unfortunately, regulations are in place that force us to be held back from actually growing and creating what we think is going to be a tremendous level of hockey in Canada.”
The league says it has established its own insurance plan for players and staff to replace the Hockey Canada plan.
In a statement, a Hockey Canada spokesperson said it feels its model benefits those involved in the sport but acknowledged that “the BCHL and others are free to enjoy the game outside of sanctioned programs.”
“Hockey Canada will continue to work with B.C. Hockey and its nearly 94,000 remaining participants to provide British Columbians with opportunities to safely enjoy, develop and compete in Canada’s game,” the statement said.
The league has 17 teams in B.C. and one in Washington state.