BCHL commissioner John Grisdale was in Trail on Saturday to take in the Smoke Eaters game against the Langley Rivermen, and survey the state of the game in the league’s most eastern city.
Grisdale recently signed a deal with the BCHL to stay on for three more years, and says his tenure, which began in 2003, has stretched on longer than expected.
“When I got in, I was going to be in it for two or three years, and (here I am) 10-or-11 years later,” Grisdale told the Times. “I really enjoy the people in the league, and we always have challenges but so does every group.”
Under Grisdale, the league has become a jumpoff point for players seeking scholarship opportunities to NCAA and CIS colleges and universities.
Over the last five seasons, the BCHL has averaged 126 college commitments annually, has won four RBC Cup national championships during Grisdale’s term, as well as winning the inaugural Crescent Point Energy Western Canada Cup title in 2013.
“It was 60-70 (commitments) in the early years when I started, now its 120-130 NCAA, CIS, so the advancement of player and player-opportunity is responsible for close to $2 million in academic scholarships alone, so I am really proud of what our teams do there.”
The Sports Network also just inked a deal with the NCAA to broadcast close to 40 NCAA games nationally this season which will raise the profile of BCHL players and opportunities available for young players contemplating their next move.
“I’m really proud of the level of recognition our league gets from the hockey operations side,” said Grisdale. “Players want to come here, so our programs do a really good job of scouting, and now we’ve got kids talking about wanting to come out here, schools sending their kids out here, so from the hockey that side is good.”
Yet, small community-owned teams like Trail face unique challenges. Whether it’s increased travel, difficulty recruiting, problems with players reporting following trades, or even getting local players to stay and play, they all hamper the team’s chances on the ice and, ultimately, the bottom line, yet Grisdale maintains that things are looking up.
At June’s AGM the league reduced the number of cards carried by a team by Oct.1 to 30, which restricts teams from moving kids in and out, said Grisdale.
“Teams that have been more stable in the program, and done a better job recruiting, it’s worked, and I think by the growth of the hockey operation, more kids want to play in our league, and so it’s benefitted more programs.”
A combination of good scouting and recruiting from the Smokies coaching staff has landed eight NCAA commits in Trail this season, a healthy increase from last year, and the results are showing on the ice.
The realignment of the league into three divisions last season saved money for most teams, including Trail which lost over $70,000, but saved $6,000 on travel, and had its lowest total expenditures in the past three years.
Still, inconsistency has been a factor in the BCHL as teams come and go, divisions realign, new playoff formats arise, and starting dates fluctuate as much as team rosters.
Over the next three years Grisdale intends to stabilize the league, and keep the existing 16 teams feasible, sustainable, and relevant. His priorities include: standardizing a starting date and confirming whether the Showcase will continue to be a part of the opening weekend, maintain a consistent playoff and league format, and question the league’s future participation in the Western Canada and RBC Cup.
“I think we need to really work towards to make sure the league is the most important part of what we do,” said Grisdale. “Right now our schedule is focused on the Royal Bank Cup, so they determine how that’s going to be and we back it up from there. We’re finishing our season at the end of February when hockey is just getting going.
“I’d like to see us reconsider whether our involvement in those types of tournaments or championships is really necessary or should we worry more about having 16 teams that are healthy and happy rather than seeing just one go on.”