BCHL unveils Western Championship

League introduces new format to determine RBC candidates

Forget about the Doyle Cup, the BCHL team that wins the Fred Page Cup for B.C. Junior A supremacy will soon be advancing to a tournament involving all four western league champions.

The Canadian Junior Hockey League announced Monday a change to the regional playoff format for it’s four western provinces in 2013.

The B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba Junior A Hockey Leagues will play for the Western Canadian Championship, a round-robin 13-game tournament that includes representatives from each league in addition to a host team.

Currently the Doyle Cup, B.C. vs Alberta, and Anavet Cup, Saskatchewan vs Manitoba, decide the Pacific and Prairie representatives for the national tournament. In the new format, the Western Canadian champion as well as the runner-up will advance to the RBC Cup.

“The new championship format will create a tremendous opportunity to showcase our players, teams and communities and is yet another example of the strengthening among Junior A leagues in Canada,” said CJHL Chairman Kirk Lamb.

The BCHL implemented scheduling changes this year that delayed the start of the regular season in an attempt to address scheduling problems with the RBC Cup. However they also reduced the number of playoff teams from 12 to eight, prompting a number of team executives to consider withdrawing from the RBC Cup.

The introduction of the Western Canadian Championship is an attempt to alleviate past issues.

“I think it’s a great move,” said Tom Gawryletz, president of the Trail Smoke Eaters. “One of the big problems with the B.C. Hockey League is that our season starts too early and ends too early . . . the Western Championship was one way we thought we could extend our season and our playoff rounds as well.”

Nanaimo was selected by the CJHL to host the first Western Canadian Championship from Apr. 26 to May 5, 2013.

The chairman of the host organizing committee, Graham Calder, says the tournament will have a positive impact on the local economy, similar to the impact of hosting an RBC Cup, with each team bringing in roughly 30 players and staff members, parents, personnel and fans from across Western Canada and Vancouver Island.

“We’ll be booking 160 hotel rooms for a period of 10 days,” Calder told the Nanaimo Daily News.

“We see three keys to the success of the tournament: corporate support, regional fan support and a successful hockey club.”

According to a report on the economic impact of the RBC Cup in Dauphin, Man., in 2010, a net increase of economic activity of $1.6 million related to the RBC Cup was seen in the province over the course of the tournament, roughly $1 million of that occurring right in the Dauphin area.

In addition, BCHL commissioner John Grisdale said the league and Hockey Canada were in discussion with major sports networks to broadcast the tournament.

“I am extremely confident the host committee, the Clipper ownership group, their fans, the City of Nanaimo and the volunteers will work cohesively towards ensuring the championship is not only successful in Nanaimo, but the legacy left will provide a blueprint for the other Junior A leagues to follow,” said Grisdale in a release.

The BCHL head was instrumental in convincing the other league commissioners to adopt the Western Championship, says Gawryletz.

“He’s pretty well the big push behind the Western Canada thing, I think we’re all fired up about it in the league so we’ll see what happens.”

The four western leagues will take turns hosting the event with the MJHL in 2014, the AJHL 2015 and the SJHL in 2016.

While the Smokies president doesn’t see Trail hosting the event anytime soon, he doesn’t rule it out either.

“It’s a huge commitment and our group right now isn’t big enough for something like that, but if I can get the group together that hosted the (Junior A Challenge Cup) tournament a few years ago and find out what their philosophy was and how they operated, I think we’d be all for it.”