A regional junior hockey league says there is interest in a franchise based out of Cranbrook.
Larry Martel, the president of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL), said Cranbrook would be a “perfect fit” for the league, as the area could facilitate rivalries with communities such as Kimberley, Fernie, Creston, Golden and Invermere.
Martel says he knows there is Junior A interest with the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) and the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) but doubted the financial viability of a Jr. A operation.
“Group(s) are also looking at the possibility of a Junior A team,” Martel said, in an emailed statement. “But getting a team located there was going to be expensive to operate and AJHL isn’t interested in locating a team in BC.”
He touted the history of the KIJHL in Cranbrook and the run that the former Colts franchise had in the 1980s. Starting in 1981, the Colts won six league championships in a row, and four Cyclone Taylor Cups as the province’s top Jr. B team.
“Their run through the 80’s was amazing,” Martel said. “It would be nice to see KI hockey back in Cranbrook. Many local minor hockey players would be given a chance to stay at home and start their junior hockey careers there.”
Martel says the KIJHL has not received an application for a franchise in Cranbrook. Any applications for league expansion or franchise relocation require an ownership group that has an approved arena lease agreement.
The KIJHL deadline for franchise relocation was the end of last week, on Friday, May 31.
In Cranbrook’s case, the city is still bound under contract with the Winnipeg Ice, a Western Hockey League franchise that holds the lease after relocating from Cranbrook at the end of the season.
Both the city and the Winnipeg Ice have been tight-lipped about the status of lease agreement, which doesn’t expire until 2023.
Formerly the Kootenay Ice, the WHL franchise had a 21-year run in the Key City after relocating from Edmonton in 1998.
Martel noted that the KIJHL currently has 20 teams — 14 society or community-run teams, with six privately owned franchises. Moving up to 21 teams would allow for a scheduling change and a new divisional set up.
Martel said the league turned down two ‘very strong’ expansion applications two years ago that would have put franchises in Williams Lake and Quesnel. The applications were denied simply because the KIJHL was undertaking a new governance model review and that the two communities could reapply once a proper financial study analyzes league expansion to the Caribou region.
The KIJHL has its annual general meeting on June 8 in Sun Peaks, where league representatives will vote on how the new administration looks, which is moving from a volunteer effort to paid executive.