BCHL changes will be felt by Smokies

The Smoke Eaters will be hoping at least some of the changes made by the B.C. Hockey League lately don’t last, but are in keep-on-keeping-on mode for now.

The biggest change, moving the start date for regular season play, makes sense for everybody in terms of Labour Day being too early to start playing games that count.

How that will impact the pre-season tournament is up in the air, however. The top-tier teams that usually attend have used the end of summer event as one of t their most important assessment tools in past – heading home to make near-final roster cuts on the basis of watching recruits compete against strong Junior A lineups just before icing their lineups for games that matter.

For this year, both Brooks and Powell River have confirmed attendance and the Smokies are waiting to hear whether Penticton, which has, “won,” the event the first two years, is still interested in light of the changing schedule.

The tournament is important for Trail for a variety of reasons.

The Smokies had perennial problems scheduling pre-season games – the league had to jawbone other clubs to make room for Trail some seasons – and the tournament means the local club is guaranteed to see its prospects in fairly meaningful action before winding down its selection process.

The gathering of four quality Junior A programs in one place, (in what used to be) late in the pre-season evaluation period, also guaranteed that a fair number of college scouts would be in attendance – a major selling point for kids in all four programs, many of whom choose junior A hockey over the CHL brand because they want to keep their education options open.

With the season start moved to three weeks distance from the tournament, teams may decide, however, to opt for later pre-season options in terms of assessing prospect development – but that is for another year. At least for now the tournament, pretty much a break-even event for Trail and a very positive one for the area, is still a go. Fans are reminded, however, that this might be their last opportunity to watch (and pontificate about) clubs like Brooks and Powell River – and maybe Penticon, too – for next-to-nothing at the local rink.

The later start should be a positive for the kids. It will mean those who attend school will be able to establish themselves in the semester before beginning serious Junior a play. Having the opportunity to get on their feet with teachers and classes without needing to work around late nights and outright absences from the get-go should make starting a new school year far less stressful.

The negative impact of the schedule changes, which the league experienced not that long ago, is that not every fan will have the opportunity to see every team in the league because whole divisions of teams will not make trips to those fans’ barns each year.

That’s a change that shouldn’t, and given history likely won’t last.

The draft move seems pointless, and draft day might be ignored by most teams, which already spend much of their year scouting and attempting to attract young talent. It’s a move the bigger, for-profit, BCHL franchises, who have always hated sharing the talent pool with smaller clubs like Trail and Merritt, likely pushed for – in hopes that some years they will be able to force top youngsters away from their home areas by snatching up their rights on draft day.

You know, make sure a team like Trail can’t hog a Mellor and a St. Dennis and a Walker all at the same time.

The draft idea may rebound against Junior A in the very short term, with players and parents deciding on the major junior team that drafted them – a, “What the heck, if the kid has to leave home turf, anyway!” kind of thing. Teams on the western end of the unior B KIJHL might like the draft concept to make them more competitive with the highly successful eastern teams, with young players having no choice but to affiliate with Okanagan junior A teams for any chance to play in the loop at a young age.

Think of it this way – a player developed, nurtured, etc. by a local minor association, be it the Rossland-Trail one that brought the junior a Smokies here or a broader, Kootenay-based one, may not be able to play (at least in his affiliate season) here, even if he wants to. That just sounds wrong, and not just the Smokies think the whole draft idea is a bad one.

Pulling the western team(s) out of the Royal Bank Cup is about time and money, and the league and the Smokies can be on the same page for it.

All we can do for now is wait and watch.