BC Hockey League (BCHL) commissioner John Grisdale made a stop in Trail last week and talked to the Trail Times about the recent purchase of the Trail Smoke Eaters and the health of the BCHL in general.
The commissioner’s visit coincides with the imminent sale of the Smoke Eaters, a move Grisdale says is a positive one for the City, the Smoke Eaters, and the league.
“It injects new excitement into the franchise because it’s been the same people doing a lot of work here for a long time,” said Grisdale. “We still have to go through the final steps but we received the agreement between Trail and Rich Murphy, and now we just have it in our lawyers’ hands and it just has to go through due diligence and hopefully we’ll get that done pretty quick.”
The purchase of the Smokies for $600,000 by Minnesota businessman Murphy follows the sale of the Cowichan Valley Capitals in August to Bejing entrepreneur Ray Chang, and while small market teams like Trail and Cowichan have struggled financially, the long-time head of the BCHL says the league is progressing and still piquing interest.
“Believe it or not there are a number of people that are interested. We had Cowichan change hands, now Trail, there’s a team that’s interested in putting an expansion team in the Lower Mainland, and there’s others who are reporting to be interested in franchises so we’ll see. Whatever reason, there’s some active interest in our franchises.”
On the ice, last season was a high-water mark for the BCHL as it drafted three players in the first round, committed 148 players to NCAA and Canadian universities and colleges, and saw the West Kelowna Warriors win its first RBC Cup.
“That was a record for us, and we’re excited, I think we already have 70 something (committed) this year,” said Grisdale. “And that’s really what we’re noted for, a development league that provides opportunity for players, particularly for them going on to Canadian and U.S. schools.”
In addition to the new ownership of two franchises, the expansion of the BCHL last season with the Wenatchee Wild has been a welcome one for the league. While the relationship is still being forged, the Wild’s success on the ice (10-0-1 this season) and at the gate (averaged about 3,000 fans per game last season) bodes well for the new franchise and the BCHL.
As for the Smoke Eaters, while the details of the final sale of the team are worked out, there has been a noticeable buzz around the Cominco Arena and the Trail Smoke Eaters, with great expectations on the horizon.
“It’s coming to places like Trail and seeing the people, I know we all wish we had full buildings, but seeing the people that do come that’s what keeps me excited,” said Grisdale. “The fans in these communities, 17 of them, is what makes it fun.”