Skip to content

Here’s what the BCHL’s move away from Hockey Canada means for the Coquitlam Express

The BCHL officially becomes independent from Hockey Canada on June 1
The Coquitlam Express will be able to recruit younger players from across North America and even overseas after a decision by the BC Hockey League to separate itself from Hockey Canada.

Tali Campbell’s frequent flyer card could be getting a workout this summer, thanks to a recent decision by the BC Hockey League (BCHL).

As of June 1, the junior ‘A’ circuit will be an independent entity, no longer constrained by rules and regulations imposed by Hockey Canada.

That means its 18 teams will be free to recruit college-tracking players as young as 16 years old from across North America and even overseas to supplement its own home-grown players from B.C.

Previously, players from out of province had to wait until their final two years of junior eligibility before they could join a BCHL program.

In a statement on its website, the league said it's making the move to provide a junior hockey alternative to young players who don't want to risk their post-secondary eligibility by playing Major Junior in the Canadian Hockey League, which U.S. colleges consider a professional league, or who don't have a viable Junior 'A' alternative nearby.

The general manager of the Coquitlam Express said the change significantly broadens the pool of players available to the league.

The world is literally the BCHL’s oyster, and that means Campbell has to get out there digging.

Already he’s been to San Jose for the U.S. nationals; he recently attended a tournament in Las Vegas and he’ll soon be off to Florida for another.

Also on Campbell’s agenda is a scouting trip to Sweden with Express owner Fayaz Manji.

He said the prospect of being able to bring top young players from around the world to Coquitlam to develop for four years is “exciting” – but it also comes with considerable challenges.

Campbell said every BCHL organization will have to step up its billet and education programs to accommodate the young out-of-towners, many of whom will be away from home for the first time while still attending high school.

Managing it all will require additional front office staff and more scouts will have to be engaged.

In other words, Campbell said, the hockey operations of BCHL teams will have to become more professional. And with that comes budgetary pressures that will have to be addressed with better marketing plans to attract more fans and sponsors.

Campbell said he expects the support of local businesses that is the financial lifeblood of every BCHL team will eventually be complemented by larger, corporate sponsors that want to hitch their wagon to the league’s reputation as a top feeder to high-profile U.S. college programs – and even the occasional early-round NHL draft pick.

To ensure every team is able to put its best foot forward and compete on a level playing field, Campbell said the BCHL is implementing operational changes like limiting the number of players that can attend training camp and setting standards for team-issued gear.

As well, the league has set a goal to eliminate player fees by 2025.

Still to be navigated is the relationship BCHL teams will be able to maintain with affiliate players competing in leagues that remain a part of Hockey Canada.

It’s an issue of particular interest to Campbell as he’s also a part owner of the Nanaimo Buccaneers, a junior ‘B’ team in the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League that acts as a feeder to BCHL teams.

“I’d hope there’s some common sense at the board level at Hockey Canada and BC Hockey that it’s all about the kids,” Campbell said.

“If we put roadblocks in the way that doesn’t allow them to affiliate with BCHL players, that’s disastrous.”

It’s all added up to a busy month for Campbell since the Express was eliminated in five games by the Chilliwack Chiefs in the first round of the playoffs, a result that still stings.

But there’s been no time to salve that wound.

When the league announced its move to independence on May 1, Campbell said his phone needed to be recharged three times as he was taking so many calls from agents and players’ families.

He said the foundation and culture of leadership and community involvement the Express have built over the past four years have made the team a desirable destination.

Keeping that momentum going on a much broader platform will make for a busy summer.

“Your workload has increased by double,” Campbell said. “Now you’re expanding out to a lot more networks, a lot more markets, a lot more opportunity for different players.”

But, he added, there’s nothing he’d rather be doing.

“I think it’s going to be exciting for our league.”