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Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League among leagues evaluated for tier upgrade in new year

Campbell River Storm would be one of the teams going to Junior A Tier 1
Oceanside Generals Miles Carson fires a shot that was blocked by Campbell River Storm goalie Nick Peters, in a game last season. (Michael Briones photo)

BC Hockey released a press release on Dec. 18 on the pathway of junior hockey in the province, particularly on the teams moving from Junior A Tier 2 to Junior A Tier 1. This includes the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (VIJHL) and Campbell River Storm.

Campbell River Storm and the rest of the VIJHL switched from Junior B to Junior A Tier 2 after being unanimously approved by the BC Hockey Board of Directors before the 2023-24 season. Kyle Evans, the general manager and head coach of the Storm, said in the day-to-day processes from a league perspective on his end, not much has changed so far. However, there have been effects in recruiting with teams shifting strategies to get top players.

READ MORE: BC Hockey approves Junior A status for three Junior B hockey leagues

Evans added the Storm have put a much heavier emphasis on recruiting and “have begun to look at at different areas they haven’t reached previously.” More higher-level players have also been choosing the VIJHL due to the new Junior A Tier 2 title, and with the possible upgrade to Tier 1 upcoming, this will continue improving, as will the level of play.

“Behind the scenes, this hard work continues as a part of our commitment to elevate the Junior hockey experience in British Columbia and Yukon,” the BC Hockey release says. “The Junior Hockey Task Group continues to meet and have taken steps to establish a clear course for the future of Junior hockey within British Columbia. During both virtual and in-person meetings this fall, the primary focus was on developing standards that prioritize the player experience, with the aim to initiate a step-by-step process of improvement and growth.”

The Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL), Western Hockey League (WHL) and Hockey Canada (HC) are all collaborating on this.

READ MORE: BCHL splits from Hockey Canada, forms independent league

“Behind the scenes, there is extensive work happening to lay the foundation for this journey,” Cameron Hope, CEO of BC Hockey said. “I want to acknowledge the tremendous efforts that leagues and teams have put into this transition process to this point. It’s a collective effort to ensure that players, coaches and fans alike experience the best of what junior hockey programs in British Columbia and Yukon have to offer.”

According to the release, the Junior Hockey Task Group is finalizing an independent evaluation group, which will begin the evaluating process for the three leagues making the switch from Junior A Tier 2 to Tier 1 to determine if they are ready for the change. These leagues are the VIJHL, the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) and the Pacific Junior Hockey League (PJHL). The evaluation is due to begin in the early months of 2024, but will be an extensive process.

”Transparency, credibility, fairness, and having all stakeholders committed to the process, will ensure that everyone involved can benefit,” the release says. “As part of these efforts, we are simultaneously working together with our stakeholders to enhance the current player experience. The Junior Hockey Task Group continues to identify key standards that will provide the foundation for our Junior leagues.”

These key standards are:

A) A commitment to B.C. - born players.

B) Teams being financially viable and vetted

C) Player development a primary focus.

D) Education, player safety, and mental health programs are prioritized.

E) Respect in Sport is also prioritized.

F) High risk management standards.

G) Dedication to delivering a high-value player experience.

H) Access to independent third-party for dispute resolution.

I) Insurance through HC.

J) Integration with the Canadian Development Model.

“The work that is underway is clearly exhibiting that the change to Junior A Tier 2 goes well beyond a name change,” Jeremy Ainsworth, chair of the Junior Hockey Task Group, says. “Of paramount importance is ensuring that we champion the growth of the junior game within our province. We will closely monitor the percentage of B.C. and Yukon based players within the league to ensure that local athletes have ample opportunities to showcase their talents and continue their development. Also, we emphasize the importance of officiating and coaching development. As part of the Hockey Canada model all participants will have the opportunity to earn a chance to represent Canada at an international event, such as the World Junior A Challenge.”

About the Author: Brendan Jure

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