The BCHL is going it alone.
The league the Trail Smoke Eaters play in says it will operate independently next season, outside the umbrella of Hockey Canada.
The BCHL says its goal is to do more for its players.
In a news release, chairman Graham Fraser said the league sends more players to NCAA Division I teams than all other junior hockey leagues combined. The 411 BCHL alumni on NCAA rosters last season accounted for nearly a quarter of all players.
“That is exciting, but we aspire to do more for players and to provide a higher level of hockey for our fans,” he said. “Under the current system, that’s just not possible.”
Fraser said the problem is that players under the age 18 face restricted options. If they sign with a major junior team in the Canadian Hockey League, they are disqualified from US colleges because the NCAA considers the CHL a professional league.
If they keep their eligibility and play Junior A instead, they can only play in their province of residence. If they don’t have a competitive junior option in their own province, they often have to play south of the border in the USHL or NAHL while maintaining NCAA eligibility.
The BCHL says it expects playing outside of Hockey Canada will mean a higher level of competition and more players earning scholarships to Division I schools.
“We believe U18 players should have two development paths in Canada – major junior leading to the National Hockey League being one and college-tracking junior leading to a US college and then the NHL being the other,” said BCHL CEO Chris Hebb. “Both are important. Both should be supported.”
It was not immediately clear, however, whether all of the teams in the league supported the move. We have requested comment from the Smokies.