The Western States Hockey League won’t be receiving the endorsement of the Central Cariboo Joint Committee to bring a junior A expansion team to Williams Lake for the 2021/22 season.
During the CCJC meeting held Thursday, April 28, Williams Lake city councillors and Cariboo Regional District directors aired their thoughts and concerns, as well as those heard from community members, and discussed results of a community engagement survey solicited by the City of Williams Lake in February.
Steve Forseth, Area D director with the CRD, said the matter has now been deferred back to council with a recommendation the proposal prepared on behalf of staff from the city’s director of community service, Ian James, be rejected.
“Because these leagues don’t operate under the Hockey Canada model there is some genuine concern coming in,” Forseth told the Tribune. “The [Williams Lake] Stampeders have some concerns, [Williams Lake] minor hockey has concerns, and it was also born out of the survey there was some discomfort level with the kind of operating model they provide for.”
Forseth noted the city’s community survey proved inconclusive for general support and the committee decided, given those results, there was not a consensus from the community at large to move forward.
“You really can’t go against the community how the community is feeling,” he said.
James, meanwhile, said he was disappointed with joint committee’s decision.
“The way this is set up — it’s not costing the city anything,” James said. “It would bring in revenue, sport tourism and some excitement to the city.”
He pointed to the recent decision made this past fall by the BC Hockey League — a junior A league formerly a part of Hockey Canada — to break free of the organization as an example of leagues distancing themselves from the national, sanctioning body.
“They want to do their own thing, and it’s what the WSHL is doing: saying that we want to provide other options for players and that Hockey Canada is too restrictive.
“At the highest level these athletes are competing for scholarships, or getting themselves to the next level, and they’re willing to invest in themselves. They’ve not asking for money from anyone, and I don’t think we should be closing doors and taking away opportunities from others and putting them in a box.”
The AAU-sanctioned WSHL — which runs as a pay-to-play league — is a junior A tier 2 ice hockey league, operating outside of Hockey Canada, founded in 1993.
The league is currently split into four divisions: Midwest, Northwest, Provincial and Western, housing teams in Alberta, Texas, Kansas, Washington and California. Most recently, the Vancouver Devils, who will play out of the Fraser Valley, have joined the WSHL for next season as the league looks to expand into B.C.
Prior to the meeting, James prepared a report recommending approval of the league’s request from staff on the following conditions:
1.) Both parties agree to a year-to-year probationary facility rental agreement to bring a WSHL Jr. A team to the City of Williams Lake, and that a firm commitment to the WSHL will be decided after four consecutive years of league activity and operations in the city.
2.) The WSHL Jr. A team acceptance by the City of Williams Lake is contingent on the outcome of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and the Alberta RCMP investigation into player abuse allegations.
The allegations stem from billet family concerns related to abusive behaviour and actions of a WSHL head coach in Edson, Alta., which James’ report noted have been reviewed by city staff.
While the allegations have been dismissed by the AAU, an appeal by billet families is underway. Edson RCMP, meanwhile, are still investigating.
The WSHL expansion into the lakecity is expected to come before Williams Lake City Council again during its next regular meeting on Tuesday, May 11.