The Blackfalds Bulldogs only wanted to do what was right for their players.
With plans to join the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) with four other Alberta-based teams for the 2024-25 season, the news came out early sending the hockey world into a frenzy.
That led to the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) cancelling games between the five defecting teams and the rest of the league.
The Bulldogs had every intention of playing the remainder of the season in the AJHL but when the league made their decision that left Blackfalds with few options.
They had to do right by their players.
So when the BCHL proposed they play the remainder of the season in their league, the five teams jumped at the opportunity.
“Our whole goal when we set up this team is to provide the best opportunity for our players to play at the highest level,” Bulldogs Owner and head coach Doug Quinn told The Advocate.
“It’s all about getting the kids to the NCAA and the BCHL’s progressive thinking looked like the best opportunity to get kids there.”
The BCHL has the most committed players to the NCAA in all of the Junior A leagues in Canada, which was intriguing to the Bulldogs. The BCHL, who left Hockey Canada to form their unsanctioned league, set a single-season record in 2023 with 174 athletes committed to the NCAA.
Quinn explained he had first heard the rumours about joining the BCHL for the 2024-25 over the last year but didn’t take it seriously.
But as it got closer to the second week of January momentum began to pick up. Quinn said he got the opportunity to talk to some of the BCHL’s executives and was impressed by their progressive forward-thinking.
That led to the Bulldogs signing a Memorandum of Understanding, which is not a legal document but rather a written intention to join the BCHL for the 2024-25 campaign.
Unfortunately, that information was leaked early and the AJHL cancelled games, which led to more getting cancelled later on.
“We only had three games left and Spruce Grove had no games left… We made a commitment to our players to play games and for our fans, sponsors and everyone,” he said.
The BCHL acted quickly solidifying an Alberta division where the five teams will compete against one another in a 20-game schedule until early April.
They will then play playoffs where an Alberta champion will be crowned, who will later face off against the B.C. champion.
“With the BCHL it’s all about the kids and we needed a place to play. They’re the ones that stepped up whereas the AJHL shut us out.”
This won’t be the regular format for the BCHL moving forward.
Next season the Bulldogs will be in a division of five teams. They’ll play Cranbrook five times followed by interior B.C. four times, the teams in the lower mainland once a year, and Vancouver once a year.
In a statement from Hockey Canada, they explained they’re disappointed with the decision of the five teams defecting from the AJHL.
“As the national governing body for amateur hockey in Canada, Hockey Canada’s priority is to provide Canadian athletes with opportunities to participate in our national winter sport, both recreationally and competitively,” they wrote.
“Together with our Members, we are tasked with ensuring that Canadians of all ages and abilities can enjoy playing hockey and that the sport continues to thrive and unite communities across our country for generations to come.”
Hockey Canada regulations restrict the number of American players that a team can roster and prohibit teams from registering non-North American players.
They also require that 16- and 17-year-olds seeking to play Junior A hockey must do so in the Junior League in their home provinces.
“While we understand that this model is not for everyone, we are steadfast in our commitment to continuing to provide Canadian athletes with premier development opportunities in Canada, including at the Junior A level.”
They went on to say they believe in their model they acknowledged player’s right to play unsanctioned hockey if they choose to.
“Hockey Canada will continue to work with BC Hockey, including its Tier 2 Junior A leagues, Hockey Alberta, the Alberta Junior Hockey League and the Canadian Junior Hockey League to provide participants with opportunities to safely play, develop and compete in hockey throughout Alberta and British Columbia.”