The BC Junior Hockey League

The B.C. Junior Hockey League was formed the year before NHL expansion and included teams from Kamloops, Kelowna, Vernon, Penticton, New Westminster and Victoria. Fewer teams were included to maintain a higher standard. Additional junior teams were relegated to B circuits. Three years later Vancouver and Chilliwack joined the league in 1970 and the BCJHL was divided into Coast and Okanagan divisions.

The league’s first major problem arose when some owners wanted to split from the B.C. Amateur Hockey Association (Only three of eight attended the association’s annual meeting.). These owners wanted over-age players and didn’t want Memorial Cup playdowns interfering with their lengthy seasons.

The Association compromised, allowing the owners four over-age players. The teams had to compete in Tier Two Provincial playdowns, however and were told to discontinue affiation with prairie teams. A second problem resulted when some prairie teams started signing B.C. players without proper releases.

Nanaimo and Bellingham next joined the BCJHL and New West, Vancouver and Victoria left for the WCHL the following season. In August, 1972 the rival Pacific International Junior “A” Hockey League was formed. It consisted of six teams, expanded to eight and became the Pacific Junior Hockey League two years later when Seattle and Portland left.

The league folded the 1980-81 season and several of the Pacific teams joined the BCJHL. With teams coming and going the BCJHL formed two different divisions. The interior teams were Kelowna, Merritt, Penticton and Vernon and the coast teams were Bellingham, Chilliwack, Langley and Nanaimo.

Some of the BCJHL’s best players starred during the early and mid-eighties. Ray Ferraro of Penticton, Dan Hodgson of Cowichan Valley and Craig Redmond of Abbotsford led the league in scoring. And during the 1983-84 season Brett Hull of Penticton set a league record with 105 goals and 188 points.

The B.C. Hockey League has expanded into three divisions and developed into Canada’s best Junior A circuit. Five lower mainland teams have been grouped with four island teams (including Powell River) to form the Coastal Conference. The seven Interior Conference teams range from Prince George through the Cariboo plateau and Okanagan valley to the Kootenays. The league has dominated the Centennial/Royal Bank Cups tournaments during the last decade or so.

Penticton first won the cup in 1986. Since then Vernon has won four times in 1990, 1991, 1996, and 1999. Also Richmond won the Cup in 1987, Kelowna in 1993, and South Surrey in 1998. Thus the B.C. Hockey League started during the 1970s, came of age during the 1980s and dominated Canadian Junior A during the 1990s. Many believe that this will continue well into the new millenium.

BACKGROUND: A HISTORY OF B.C. JUNIOR HOCKEY British Columbia hockey was alive and well by the time that the West Coast Hockey League folded in 1926. B.C.’s first junior hockey championships were scheduled the following season when the Vancouver Terminals beat Salmon Arm. The next year the Mowat Cup was introduced there were nine eligable teams from the Kootenays, Okanagan, Prince George, Victoria and Vancouver. Talent was evenly distributed and Fernie won the first cup, Nelson the second and Vancouver the third and fourth. There were thirteen junior teams by the 1930-31 season and Trail won the fifth and sixth cups.

The Okanagan Junior “A” Hockey League was formed the 1961-62 season with the Kelowna Buckaroos, Vernon Canadians, Kamloops Rockets and the Penticton Vees competing. The Kootenay Junior “B” Hockey League was started the 1969-70 season.

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… during the 1983-84 season Brett Hull of Penticton set a league record with 105 goals and 188 points

The Kamloops Tradition

Kamloops Hockey Team – 1925

A number of B.C. teams have excelled in hockey. The Vancouver Millionaires won the Stanley Cup in 1915 and the Victoria Cougars did the same ten years later. The Kimberly Dynamiters won the World Championships in 1937 and the Penticton Vees in 1955. The Trail Smoke Eaters won the Worlds both in 1939 and 1961. And the Vernon Lakers/Vipers topped Canadian Junior A hockey when they won the Centennial/Royal Cups in 1990, 1991, 1996 and 1999.

B.C.’s other success story has been the Kamloops Blasers. They have achieved seven 50 win seasons and six WHL championships during their sixteen year history. The Blasers have made six Memorial Cup appearances, which is only one behind the Peterborough Petes who have played twenty-two more seasons. Kamloops also won the Memorial Cup three times in four years from 1991-92 to 1994-95 which is a record.

During these years three Blasers were named Memorial Cup MVPs: Darcy Tucker, Shane Doan and Scott Niedermayer. Also, three Kamloops coaches have moved on to become NHL coaches: Ken Hitchcock, Tom Renney and Don Hay.

Why has this small B.C. city repeatedly beaten higher budgeted teams in larger centres across Canada and the U.S.? First of all the Blasers have the community support of eighty thousand fans. Tom Renney states: “There is a tremendous sense of pride in the community that collectively supports the tradition of the team.”

The Kamloops tradition started nearly seventy-five years ago when they registered a team with the B.C.A.H.A. during the 1927-28 season. Their teams played on natural ice until Kamloops built a 2200 seat Memorial Arena during the 1948-49 season. The first championship Kamloops team, the Elks played the following year in the new Mainland Okanagan Amateur Hockey League. The champs had three of the league’s top five scorers (in a five team league) and went on to win the Savage Cup. A few years later the Kamloops Loggers, a Senior AA team won the Coy Cup.

Another Kamloops team, the Chiefs played in the Okanagan Senior Hockey League during the late 1950s. The Chiefs won the Coy Cup in 1963 and 1964 while the Kamloops Rockets, a Junior A team won the Mowat Cup in 1962, 1964 and 1971. In 1973 the Canadian Major Junior Hockey League’s Vancouver Nats relocated to Kamloops. They adopted the Chiefs’ name and featured future NHLers Ryan Walter and Reg Kerr. Unfortunately the twenty-five year old Memorial Arena was too small and the Chiefs moved to Seattle in 1977.

Kamloops’ next team was the B.C. Junior Hockey League’s Braves who were a development team for Major Junior. Future NHLers Andy Moog and Tim Watters started their careers with the Braves who also folded. After the Braves came the Tier 11 Rockets who left Kamloops for Revelstoke this time. Then Kamloops’ big break came in 1981 when the New Westminster Bruins moved north. The Kamloops Junior Oilers were owned by the Edmonton Oilers who soon considered relocating to the prairies. That was when the Kamloops community pride stepped in and raised and borrowed enough money to buy their own team.

Another reason for the Blasers’ success has been their management. Don Hay stated: “The strength of the Organization starts at the top with guys like Colin Day, Bob Brown, Stu McGregor and the scouts. As a result, we all believed in the same philosophy and what it took to be successful.” Blasers’ management was smart enough to hire the best minor league coach in Canada. Ken Hitchcock from Edmonton coached the Blasers from their inception in 1984 until 1990. He established the Blasers’ philosophy before graduating to the International League before and leading Dallas to a Stanley Cup in 1999. Hitchcock’s first season the Blasers placed third in the W.H.L. and the second year they won the league championship and finished third at the Memorial Cup.

Kamloops roared to first place in 1987 and 1988 and went to the Division Finals in 1989. The 1989-90 season the Blazers again won the WHL Championship and played for the Memorial Cup for the third time in their seven year history. Hitchcock left Kamloops with a .693 winning percentage (291-125-15) and had been named the league’s Coach – of – the – Year in 1986-87 and again in 1989-90. Hitch was also voted Canadian Major Junior Hockey’s top coach that same season.

Tom Renney from Cranbrook followed in Hitchcock’s footsteps. His first season the Blasers finished in first place with a 50-20-2 record but injuries kept them from the Memorial Cup. In 1991-92 they compiled a 51-17-4 season (Their third consecutive 50 win season, a C.H.L. record.), won the WHL Championship and went to their fourth Memorial Cup in nine seasons. The Blazers won their first Cup, defeating the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds. Renney was named the Coach-of-the-Year his rookie season and earned a.731 win percentage over two seasons, the highest in W.H.L. history.

Kamloops homeboy Don Hay succeeded Renney and won two Memorial Cups over the next four years and achieved a .699 winning percentage. Since Kamloops’ golden years the Blasers have had their ups and downs. However, one thing has remained the same. Don Hay summarized: “…hard work has been the common denominator with each successful Blazer team over the years.” It’s this common denominator that many believe will lead the Blasers to the Memorial Cup once again.

“There is a tremendous sense of pride in the community that collectively supports the tradition of the team.”

Tom Renney, the president and CEO of Hockey Canada

BC Women’s Hockey

Vancouver Amazons in Banff Alberta – 1922

Women’s hockey wasn’t officially recognized until 1982. It was the year of towel power and the B.C.A.H.A. finally threw in the towel and welcomed the “B.C. Girls” into their ranks. It had only taken six decades.

A woman’s game was first played in Ottawa in 1891. Its popularity quickly spread across Canada and by the turn of the century Vancouver sported a few teams. Nelson also had a “Ladies Hockey Club” a decade later.

The Sterlings and Wanderers featured two of the Patrick sisters, Dora and Cynda and played against neighbouring towns. One difficulty that rural teams faced was the travel between towns and villages during the winter months. Thus women’s hockey consisted mostly of inter-town rivalries rather than organized leagues. In these rural areas women sometimes played hockey with and against men who were occasionally short a player for a game. B.C. women’s hockey peaked during the 1920s.

The Fernie Swastikas (before the name became ominous) won the Alpine Cup at the Banff Winter Carnival in 1923. They defeated the Calgary Regents and the Vancouver Amazons who had won the Rocky Mountain Park Trophy the year before. Women’s hockey continued to flourish during the 1930s when women’s athletic associations were being formed. It fell off during the 1940s, however, when women were needed for the war effort. Also during the following decade women as well as men were working rather than playing sports.

Women’s hockey regained momentum during the 1960s. In 1967 the first Dominion Ladies Hockey Tournament was held in Brampton, Ontario featuring twenty-two Ontario teams. That same year the Wallaceburg Lipstick Tournament hosted sixteen teams from Ontario and the U.S. (Port Huron). It was billed as the North American Girls Hockey Championship Tournament. Yet, while women’s hockey had flourished east of the Rockies, it had regressed in B.C. Women in Victoria didn’t have teams let alone a league and played friday night scrub games with their husbands and boyfriends.

Similarly women’s hockey in Vancouver wasn’t really organized. Women athletes who wanted to stay in shape during the winter had to organize their own rec league. In both cases shin pads and figure skates were the standard equipment used.

Women’s hockey continued to gain in popularity during the 1970s but didn’t receive any formal recognition until a decade later. The first encouragement came from the politcally correct federal government which was promoting opportunities for women in sports. This in turn prompted the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association to establish a female hockey council in May of 1982. This token support rippled further to the BCAHA which five months later accepted the B.C. Girl’s Ice Hockey Association into their membership (In their defence, the BCAHA did go a step further and promote women’s hockey at the B.C. Winter Games.).

The second encouragement came from the corporate sector again in 1982. Shoppers Drug Mart sponsored the first Women’s National Hockey Championship in Brantford, Ontario which made it a sport rather than a novelty. Next, women’s hockey jumped onto the international stage. Five years after the first Women’s National, the inaugural Women’s World Hockey Tournament was held in Ontario. This prompted the International Ice Hockey Federation to support women’s hockey which indirectly resulted in it being included in Nagano in 1998.

The impact of these developments is reflected directly in the numbers. The Brampton tournament has expanded from 22 teams in 1967 to 400 teams today. Similary B.C. women’s teams have expanded from three in the 1993-94 season to thirty-seven in 1998-99. Yet while the numbers are growing, B.C. hasn’t achieved the team success of the provinces like Alberta, Ontario and Quebec. B.C. has never won the Abby Hoffman Cup which is awarded at the Shoppers tournament. Also British Columbia hasn’t faired well at the coveted Esso Canadian National Championships.

In competitions from 1995 until 2000, B.C. has only averaged from fifth to seventh place. And during a time when Alberta has won seventeen and Ontario sixteen women’s hockey trophies B.C. hasn’t won one. It will take a while for B.C. to establish the traditions of these other provinces where girls are indoctrinated into hockey from a young age. Most B.C. girls play the sports their mothers played like basketball, soccer and field hockey. And B.C. women’s hockey is improving. Vancouver’s Danielle Dube has played on the Canadian Women’s National Team and was ranked the top goalie in Canada. Also the B.C. Griffins competed for the Bronze Medal against Ontario in the Esso tournament last season.

There is also a healthy Triple AAA league on the lower mainland and teams throughout the province from the Kootenays and Kamloops to Sooke have won Double AA championships. But most important, that women’s hockey hotbed of Fernie has once again reared its head. Fernie has won three straight titles in the newly created Girl’s Midget AA league. It’s hoped they will lead British Columbia to the same success that they did seventy years ago.

Most B.C. girls play the sports their mothers played like basketball, soccer and field hockey

BC Minor Hockey

BC minor hockey teams at Rogers Arena, Vancouver

B.C. MINOR HOCKEY Senior and minor league hockey have experienced a reversal of fortune over the past eighty years. The B.C. Amateur Hockey Association was formed in 1919 and minor hockey was given a back seat. There were a limited number of covered arenas and it was reasoned that transportation was too slow and expensive for the kids to travel to playoffs. So minor hockey wasn’t encouraged.

Even Junior hockey was supported largley because of the efforts of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association. They were farsighted enough to realize that adult amateur and professional hockey needed a foundation of junior prospects. So during the 1925-26 season the CAHA gave the B.C.A.H.A. $200 to promote Junior Hockey.

B.C. had thirteen junior teams five years later but the CAHA wasn’t happy with B.C.’s minor hockey progress and threatened to cut the Junior grant. So the BCAHA started registering Midget and Juvenile teams that 1932-33 season. There were four Juvenile sides by the 1934-35 season and the CAHA alotted another $500. Then minor hockey received a grass roots boost.

New Westminster built the Queen’s Park arena prior to the 1937-38 season and formed a Pee Wee Hockey Association. Two years later the Vancouver Minor Hockey Association was also formed. It became known as the PNE Minor Hockey and Hastings Minor Hockey Association and is today called the Vancouver Hastings Minor Hockey Association.

B.C.’s minor programs were further promoted when trophies were donated. The Cromie Cup was first given to the Midget champions the 1937-38 season. By then there were four Midget teams and nine Juniors but the Juveniles had fallen off to just one team. Minor hockey grew and the next year there were two additional Junior sides, a second Juvenile squad and seven more Midget teams.

The Monarch Life Cup was awarded that season to the Juveniles’ champion. Following the war the BCAHA started registering Bantam teams but discouraged travel to tournaments (There would be no Bantam playoffs until 1960-61.). The association also discouraged inter-provincial playdowns, reasoning that that playoffs would interfere with the players’ schooling.

Minor hockey received a further boost in February, 1954 when the BCAHA promoted “Minor Hockey Week” (Two years later they presented a resolution to the CAHA to have Minor Hockey Week recognized across Canada and later convinced Imperial Oil to promote Minor Hockey Week on Hockey Night in Canada.). The BCAHA kept the ball rolling when they started handing out Minor Hockey awards in 1958-59. Pee Wee hockey was finally recognized by the BCAHA in 1955-56 and considered a division two years later. The Pee Wees were allowed district playdowns but had to wait until 1969-70 for semi-finals or finals because the Pee Wees were again considered too young (The older Bantams were allowed to compete for a B.C. championship the 1960-61 season.).

During the 1950s the BCAHA introduced unique legislation. The Trail Minor Hockey Association sponsored a resolution the 1954-55 season banning body checking in Minor Hockey. The logic was that players would become better playmakers and stickhandlers if they weren’t concerned with bodychecking. This rule lasted until 1966. From the late 1950s until the early 1970s minor hockey grew in leaps and bounds.

By 1960-61 there were 108 Minor hockey teams in the BCAHA and there were 8,000 B.C. minor leaguers playing the next year. During the 1960s the reversal of fortune was apparent. The BCAHA had an enrollment of 4809 Pee Wees, 2169 Bantams, 1444 Midgets, 621 Juveniles, 294 Juniors, and 224 Intermediates. But there were only 67 Seniors.

Minor hockey was declining by 1980, however. There had been 52,000 players in 1974 but only 36,000 in 1980. Reasons given were: Equipment was getting too expensive; The kids had other interests; Televised games had given hockey a negative image; And there was too much of a focus on the allstars rather than the rest of the players.

By the late 1980s, however, minor hockey was growing once again. The Pacific Coast Amateur Hockey Association doubled their enrollment from 1989 to 1998. There was even a shortage of ice time for many minor league players. But this time it wasn’t because the Senior leagues were excluding the minor hockey players. The reversal of fortune had taken place.

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Sum donated by the CAHA during the 1925-26 season to the B.C.A.H.A. to promote Junior Hockey

The minor hockey received a grass roots boost when CAHA alotted another sum during the 1934-35 season

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