KIJHL holds AGM, BC leagues drop Keystone Cup

Three BC Jr. B Leagues agree to pull out of Keystone Cup at the KIJHL AGM last week.

The Beaver Valley Nitehawks executive attended the KIJHL Annual General Meeting in Kamloops last week in conjunction with BC Hockey’s Awards night with good results on both ends.

At Saturday’s BC Hockey banquet, the Nitehawks were presented with the Silver Stick Award for winning the Jr. B championship Cyclone Taylor Cup in Creston in April. The Hawks came away with a 6-2 victory over Campbell River in the final, after going through the tournament undefeated.

“We received an award from Darcy Rota and the Vancouver Canucks organization for winning the Cyclone which was great,” said Dennis Bedin, who attended the AGM as Governor along with Steve Piccolo as Hawks’ president.

Bedin was pleased with the solidarity achieved this year by the various ownership groups, which voted to bring back the best-of-seven to the KIJHL final. In addition, the KI will suspend play for the prospects game weekend, Jan. 12-14, so that the league can bring more focus to the elite up-and-comers.

“I’m happy that the KIJHL first of all seems like a unified group now, which is really good,” said Bedin. “There’s a prospect’s game in Kelowna in January, which highlights our young players. We’re a development league and we want to promote these players to a higher level.”

On the business side, the run to the Keystone Cup came at a tremendous cost to the Hawks’ organization. The tournament hosted in Arborg, Man. essentially wiped out profits made during the season and KIJHL playoffs.

After a two-day drive to Arborg, the Nitehawks found their hotel rooms had been given away and were forced to put up in another town a significant distance away. But more than that, the Keystone was a poorly run event, with questionable refereeing and a bush-league mentality.

“Our hotel was an hour-and-a-half away from the rink, you couldn’t get water in the town because they had sold out,” said Bedin. “Two games a day at that level of hockey is ridiculous, the visiting teams had to pick the pucks up, they didn’t clean the ice for the warmup. It goes on and on – they had a draw and one of the raffles was a used set of golf clubs.”

It’s not from lack of success, as BC teams have won the western Canadian championship 12 times, but the three BC Jr. B leagues all voted to pull out of the tournament.

“The KIJHL, the VI (Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League), and the PJHL (Pacific Junior Hockey League) all agree the Keystone is not a viable proposition and we all said we’re not going any more.”

While the Hawks lost in the final in overtime to Alberta’s Wainwright Bisons, the Keystone was a disappointment to not only the BC representative Hawks, but also to the Alberta and Saskatchewan teams that are also rumoured to boycott the tournament.

“It was terrible what we went through,” said Bedin. “And it’s not just the cost. I want our kids to go to the highest level that they can … but it’s about safety.”

The BC Jr. B leagues proposed that instead of the Keystone, the three western provinces – BC, Alberta, and Saskatchewan – hold a Jr. B event that will truly be the Western Canadian Championship.

“We’ll have a Jr. B tournament at the top level, similar to the Cyclone. A western Jr. B championship that will be set up with good refereeing and good competition – I’m looking forward to it.”

The Hawks tied the Bisons in the round robin of the Keystone, and outscored the Sask., two Manitoba, and Northern, Ont. representatives 33-6 in four games. But traveling that distance, and playing in a dramatically sub-par tournament at an expense of over $40,000 is just not worth it, added Bedin.

“All of our extra money that we have had saved for a potential Keystone was used up and if not more. And any KI team going to a Keystone in Manitoba is going to spend over $40,000, that’s just a fact.”

Despite the decision, Bedin was upbeat about the AGM and the three-days of positive discussions, and is confident that Jr. B hockey in B.C. is heading in the right direction.

“The highlight for me after being involved in those meetings for seven years, is our meetings are progressing well, a lot of positive things coming out, they have good people and everybody is united. We use to spend a lot of our energies either divided or keeping them together, and that’s no longer the case. We’re using our energies to improve our league.”