The BCHL has released a lengthy paper suggesting changes to Hockey Canada’s junior development path.
The junior A league believes the governing body for Canadian hockey has fallen behind the times, failing to recognize the rise of NCAA as a route to the National Hockey League. The BCHL says Hockey Canada’s Canadian Development Model (CDM), which was implemented in 2006, hasn’t taken into account the growth of top junior A leagues like the BCHL and Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL).
It favours major junior and “penalizes elite players for choosing to play college-tracking junior hockey.”
“Our development model penalized players by placing discriminatory regulatory restrictions on their movement and participation in Canada,” the 35-page paper observes. “This forces many players into decisions to leave the Canadian system entirely.”
That’s the crux of the matter for the BCHL, which wants to be able to recruit talented 16 and 17-year-old players from out of province, but cannot. Those players, the paper posits, will pursue a college hockey path regardless, and end up playing in the United States in the USHL or North American Hockey League (NAHL).
“These young men choose to play junior A to maintain NCAA college eligibility, which would be lost to them the moment they signed with a team in major junior,” the paper notes. “The NCAA considers the Canadian Hockey League (CHL, encompassing the three major junior leagues) a professional league with some of its players signed to professional contracts, which disqualifies all of their athletes from attending college in the United States.
“This makes junior A the only path in Canada for those who want to play hockey at a US college.”
There are junior A leagues across the country, but the two western circuits (BCHL and AJHL) lap the field in terms of getting players NCAA scholarships.
The paper cites the example of Owen Power, the first overall pick in the 2021 National Hockey League entry draft. The Ontario product wanted to pursue the college hockey path, but he couldn’t leave Ontario at age 16 to play in the BCHL or AJHL. Instead, he spent his 16 and 17-year-old seasons with the USHL’s Chicago Steel before joining the University of Michigan Wolverines.
“As Owen Power could not have transferred to a college-tracking junior program with a proven record of preparing players for US college within his own country, like the AJHL or BCHL, he had no choice but to go to the United States.”
There are other bones of contention, including Hockey Canada and the NHL compensating major junior teams when a player is drafted. The BCHL doesn’t receive any money, despite producing a handful of draft picks each year.
The BCHL claims to have approached Hockey Canada many times with its concerns, and the decision to withdraw from the Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL) in 2021 was intended to remove the middleman and give the league a direct voice to Hockey Canada.
But the BCHL suggests Hockey Canada’s tight relationship with major junior (CHL) is the biggest obstacle to change.
“The CHL has a vested interest in convincing players to stay away from the US college hockey path and play major junior,” the paper says. “We welcome fair competition for players, but, if Hockey Canada is truly representing all players in Canada, both paths should be promoted to and by our federation, not one over the other.
“For Hockey Canada to extol the virtues of major junior as the single development path for Canadian players and ignore the potential benefits that college-tracking junior can provide players is short-sighted, biased and wrong.”
With the recent appointment of former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Thomas Cromwell to conduct an independent review of Hockey Canada’s governance structure, the BCHL hopes the time is right to push for reforms.
“Our objective is to have a frank, open and constructive discussion on the future of college-tracking junior hockey with the board of Hockey Canada as part of that review.”