Sports ‘n’ Things: B.C. junior teams poised for championship sweep

"...most of it has to do with the fact that, first the Kootenays, (Trail in particular) embraced minor hockey for its kids..."

The sports power in Canada has changed enormously in my lifetime, and recent junior hockey – not so much professional junior hockey, but even there – results are evidence.

Campbell River Storm just followed up on last year’s Western Canadian (Keystone Cup) win by the Beaver Valley Nitehawks with another title for a small-town British Columbia-based junior B squad, and the Penticton Vees are favoured to earn a national championship (Royal Bank Cup) playoff spot in the Western Canada Cup series in Fort MacMurray.

For contrast, when all junior hockey playoffs aimed at the Memorial Cup national championship finals, only once in the first 56 years of the competition did a B.C. based team – the 1944 Trail Junior Smoke Eaters – even reach the Memorial Cup final. It took 22 years more before a team from this province achieved that feat again and two more after that before a B.C. team (Saskatchewan transplants New Westminster) actually won the thing.

Since then, B.C. teams have won nine more titles, and close neighbours Spokane have gained two.

When Trail was the dominant junior hockey region in B.C., Smoke Eater squads won the B.C. title 24 times in 35 years. Only one of those teams (those pesky 44s) was able to advance past the Alberta champions against whom the playoffs always continued. Evidence of how drastic the hockey power change has been.

The Junior A national championship playoff began in 1971 and it took 12 years before a B.C. team (Penticton) won that. Since then there have been 10 more Centennial Cup/Royal Bank Cup champions from our province, and eight other times the B.C. representative made it to the national final.

Some of the change has to do with B.C. becoming almost uniformly (across the province) more wealthy, but most of it has to do with the fact that, first the Kootenays, (Trail in particular) embraced minor hockey for its kids, then B.C. became the place that supported minor hockey better than anywhere else in the nation outside of Metro Toronto and Montreal.

That built a broad supply of knowledgeable hockey folks able to carry on and enhance the tradition of hockey skills development in the province, and a large corps of relatively knowledgeable hockey fans who supported all their efforts.  From a tradition of long odds also rans to perpetual favourites for national glory, all in my admittedly (moderately) lengthy life span.

That all has led up to this year, when there is a decent chance all three top tier junior titles available could fall into B.C. hands – or mostly B.C. hands, because all levels now recruit from all over – despite our supposed warm weather status.

And then, of course, there are the Canucks, to keep us grounded.