Big celebration for 50 years of the British Columbia Hockey League this weekend. You will have to pardon me if I not particularly enamoured of the event.
You see, the BCHL, starting from the Okanagan Mainline Junior Hockey League, began as a way to eliminate Trail from the list of contenders for the B.C. Junior Hockey Championship. Up to the time the BCHL came into being, Home of Champions teams dominated junior hockey in B.C. to such an extent that the record books used ditto marks on the Mowatt Cup records.
Then, along came the BCHL, and for many years Trail was not allowed to compete for the Mowatt Cup. Trail applied to join the BCHL, in order to stay at the top level of provincial junior play, but was rejected as, “too far to travel,” for the rest of the league.
Too far to travel, indeed, if you think you will probably be trounced once you arrive.
Lots of local players, who left the area so as to be able to compete in the province’s highest league, played for and even won the provincial title, but the Smoke Eaters, along with Nelson, Rossland and East Kootenay and northern teams, never had that opportunity.
By the time another junior A league was formed in the interior, the BCHL was firmly entrenched at the top of the heap. Many of the Mowatt Cup titles its teams “earned,” were simply BCHL championships and are listed as, “automatic winners, no other Junior A league in B.C.” For 13 years, from 1968 to 1980, that was the case.
When the competition re-opened in the early 80s, the BCHL continued to attract the best players from around the province and continued to dominate the provincial championships, losing only once to the, “other,” league.
Of course, Trail still had a junior team (relegated to junior B status), usually younger than those from other places, and it won a couple of Cyclone Taylor Cups at that level, but it wasn’t until a local group bought the current BCHL franchise, which the league wishes would just go away, that Trail was allowed to really compete even at the second tier level that is Junior A.
Population and socio-economic changes mean it is much tougher now for Trail teams to match up with Okanagan and lower mainland clubs, but at least now the Smoke Eaters can enter the conversation.
Despite a down year, that will be enough to get me to the rink tomorrow feeling a lot of pride in what Smoke Eater teams have accomplished, a little (maybe a lot of) bitterness about two decades plus of potential achievements Smoke Eater teams were not allowed to try and accomplish and some hope that, someday, a provincial title will again come this way.