The BCHL gets Wild

Wenatchee Wild to join BCHL Mainland Division

Three time was a charm for the Wenatchee Wild, who, after trying to join the B.C. Hockey League for the last three years, has finally found success.

While the league has yet to release a formal announcement, Trail Smoke Eater president Tom Gawryletz confirmed at the Smoke Eaters AGM on Tuesday that the former North American Hockey League team’s bid to join the league has been approved.

“If you read the Internet everybody has heard the rumours about Wenatchee, and John Grisdale’s going to be down in Wenatchee on Friday. The 30th or 31st, the announcement is going to be made that the Wenatchee Wild will be joining the BC Hockey League.”

The Wild will play in the Mainland Division, becoming the sixth team along with Chilliwack, Coquitlam, Langley, Prince George and Surrey.

“There is still some details to be worked out, and I’m not at liberty to say much else, but yes the league will expand to 17 teams,” said Gawryletz.

Earlier this year, the Wild requested to become dormant in the NAHL for next season in order to seek permission from USA Hockey and Hockey Canada to join the BCHL.

While approval from USA Hockey and Hockey Canada did not guarantee the move, the approval of the BCHL governors was required and given last month when League commissioner John Grisdale confirmed that — barring any last-minute setbacks — the league would write Wenatchee into the BCHL Showcase schedule, which kicks off the 2015-16 campaign.

“What I can tell you is the BCHL board of governors has approved it unanimously,” Grisdale told the Times Colonist. “USA Hockey has given conditional approval, as has the North American Hockey League, which has to give approval under the U.S. Rules.”

The application was also filed with B.C. Hockey, which is holding its annual meeting June 12-14.

Grisdale said it was important to begin scheduling with Wenatchee in mind.

“We have to keep pushing forward because we’re running out of time.”

The BCHL will have its first US-based team since the Bellingham Ice Hawks moved to Trail to become the Smoke Eaters in 1995-96. That franchise tag cost the Trail group around $50,000, however financial details of the Wild expansion price have yet to be released.

The Wild play in the Town Toyota Center, a  4,300-seat multi-purpose arena in Wenatchee, in north-central Washington, just south of Princeton.

Wenatchee played in the 24-team NAHL where travel took them as far north as Fairbanks, Alaska, and as far south as Corpus Christi, Tex. near the Mexican border, so the journey to Prince George will pale in comparison.

The Smoke Eaters will play an away and home game during the season against the Wild but Gawryletz indicated that a pre-season match up could also be in the works.

“They are excited to join the league,” he added. “The story is they draw 24, 25, or 2,600 down there so it should be interesting.”

The BCHL and Wild went through the same process in 2013, however, while the bid was approved by B.C. Hockey, it failed to win the support of Hockey Canada due to lease problems in Wenatchee that have since been resolved.

John Wilson, one of the owners of the Victoria Grizzlies and the team’s alternate governor, told the Times Colonist on Apr. 30, that the move is a good sign for the league.

“The league has been under attack lately for being in a bad financial situation. Having a new team in the league and owners committed to coming in shows that the BCHL is still alive and well and thriving.”

The BCHL Bauer Showcase will open the season on Sept. 24-27 at Prospera Centre in Chilliwack. Scheduling will be completed at the BCHL annual meeting next month in Victoria.