Beginning in the upcoming 2023-24 season, three Junior B leagues in B.C. will officially be reclassified as Junior A, Tier 2 status, following a unanimous vote by BC Hockey’s board of directors.
This includes the Pacific Junior Hockey League (PJHL), the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL), and the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (VIJHL).
The decision to apply for Junior A status came in the wake of the BCHL departing Hockey Canada to become an independent league, creating a void for higher-level junior hockey sanctioned by the national body in the province.
The move will affect three local PJHL teams: the White Rock Whalers, the Surrey Knights and the Delta Ice Hawks.
“What they’re doing is, they’re rolling out a new process… it’s a pathway. It’s Junior A Tier 1 and Junior A Tier 2. We all immediately today (July 25) move to Junior A status,” but every team is currently in the second tier, explained Ronnie Paterson, owner of the White Rock Whalers.
“There’s no Junior B any longer. It’s Junior A Tier 2 and over time – they’re not sure exactly what model looks like right now – but a number of teams will, based on criteria (they have yet to develop) – will be given a chance to apply for Tier 1.”
Paterson said the Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL) will likely set the criteria, or help develop it.
“Today marks a milestone for the Pacific Junior Hockey League as we begin our journey within Junior A hockey,” PJHL Commissioner Trevor Alto said in a release.
“This pathway will provide a new and exciting route for many B.C. born players to compete at the Junior A level as they pursue their goals in hockey and education. We look forward to what the future holds as our league and teams evolve within this new framework towards a promising future.”
This decision from BC Hockey will provide the league’s clubs the opportunity to compete for a national championship in future seasons and see the leagues “commit immediately to an enhanced player experience and increased grassroots engagement,” according to a BC Hockey press release.
It will also introduce a new structure for improved player development within BC Hockey. All teams within these three leagues will be subject to an internal BC Hockey standards-tiering structure, and will all start at Tier 2.
“We are excited about the opportunities this new pathway will create for junior hockey players in B.C. and Yukon,” said Stephanie White, chair of the board of directors at BC Hockey.
“Having these teams dedicate themselves to raised standards, first to Junior A Tier 2, and eventually Junior A Tier 1 for some, will provide more of our talented players with a better player experience at the highest level in our province. BC Hockey is confident that this transformation will strengthen the development pathway immediately, and raise the overall hockey experience for players, coaches, and fans alike.”
This commitment from these three new Junior A leagues will see them participate in Hockey Canada’s Canadian Development Model, geared towards strengthening the game at elite levels, in partnership with the Western Hockey League (WHL) and the CJHL.
Where the White Rock Whalers are concerned, Paterson said they’ll apply for the Tier 1 status as soon as they’re hopefully, able.
“We certainly have a strong appetite. We’ve always felt our standards have been high, certainly from a Junior B perspective,” Paterson said.
“Our venue is unique – as much as we love and are passionate about playing in White Rock, we’ll have to see whether our venue meets the standard of the CJHL, based on ice time and dressing rooms and capacity, etc… we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, but we’ll continue to do everything internally to continue to give ourselves the best chance to be considered for Tier 1.”
Because the BCHL is now its own independent league, the move allows current junior hockey players a better chance to compete with other players at their level across the province and across Canada, he noted.
Additional commitments made unanimously by the 45 teams of these three leagues who’ve now joined Junior A include:
• Co-operation and engagement with an independent advisory board to evaluate Junior A Tier 2 teams to determine which, and when, teams may be elevated to the Junior A Tier 1 level;
• Rigorous process and analysis, conducted over the next three seasons, allowing individual teams and communities to find the level of Junior hockey most suited to them;
• An understanding that the advisory board will soon be adding other requirements aimed at optimizing the player pathway and overall experience for participants in these leagues, with the intent of increasing them each season;
• An enhanced dedication to engagement with grassroots hockey in B.C. and Yukon, ensuring that homegrown players receive the opportunity to compete at this level;
• Increasing roster minimums for players from B.C. and Yukon;
• An ongoing structure that ensures that teams achieving Junior A Tier 1 classification are ready to take on the added requirements and expectations of the nation’s highest-level of Junior hockey competition.
The goal for teams who do achieve Junior A Tier 1 status will be to eventually seek membership in the CJHL, which would then create the opportunity to compete for the Canadian Junior A National Championship: the Centennial Cup.
That would also mean eligibility for players and bench staff for Hockey Canada’s and the CJHL’s World Junior A Challenge.
“BC Hockey is committed to this new Junior A landscape. These already strong teams and leagues have earned their opportunity to fill this layer of the pathway,” said BC Hockey CEO Cameron Hope.
“It is important that junior aged players in B.C. and Yukon have opportunities to compete at a high level, and eventually at the national level as part of the CJHL.”
These newly reclassified teams will continue to participate in their established leagues during the evaluation period, and each league will be announcing further information and schedules on their websites in the near future.