It’s time to revisit the potential for a Kootenay International Junior Hockey League team to come to Williams Lake, Quesnel, or both markets.
That’s the message from junior B KIJHL commissioner Jeff Dubois, who said he’d caught wind of discussions in both communities surrounding rejected pitches from two independent leagues this past spring to compete in Quesnel and Williams Lake for the 2021/22 season.
“(The pitches) sort of spurred on the conversation on our end in terms of getting some discussion around it and talking about the possibilities,” Dubois said.
Two separate ownership groups — one in Quesnel and another in Williams Lake — submitted bids to join the league for the 2018 season, however, at the time, both applications were denied.
While the driving force to bring a KIJHL team to Quesnel is no longer championing the cause, he’s confident a team will eventually come to Quesnel or Williams Lake.
Matt Kolle, a former Quesnel Millionaires player, attempted to bring a KIJHL franchise to Quesnel two times: once in 2017 and then again in 2018. The last bid for expansion was voted down 16-3 by KIJHL governors.
Now working with the KIJHL’s Kamloops Storm, he thinks the league has changed since the city last applied, but noted a new ownership group will need to step up to the plate for that to happen.
“How can we have two communities in Quesnel and Williams Lake with no hockey teams?” Kolle asked. “It’s ridiculous. You look at the whole province: everyone’s got hockey teams. Why would Quesnel and Williams Lake, who would probably be flagship organizations in our league, not have teams?”
In Williams Lake, Rob Sandrock and his ownership group applied at the same time to join the league for 2018 and were subsequently voted down.
“I’m definitely interested still,” Sandrock told Black Press Media earlier this month. “That’s all we can really say right now. We have (since) reached out to the league.”
Dubois said the KIJHL recently hosted its annual general meeting and is beginning to plan for a post-pandemic return to the ice for 2021/22. And while he wasn’t a part of the league’s executive during the previous Cariboo expansion bids, Dubois said talk around a long-term vision for the league has changed.
“My understanding is the timing wasn’t right from the KIJHL to commit to expansion or additional members,” he said.
“But we’ve had some discussion over the last year around a long-term plan and the possibility of expansion further north and I think we’re at the point where we’re interested in having that discussion and seeing what groups might be committed to bringing something into their community up there.”
He said the KIJHL is happy to entertain those conversations, and believes there may be an appetite in both markets that didn’t exist previously.
“The bottom line is I think we know on our end both communities (Quesnel and Williams Lake) are strong hockey communities and that there’s been a junior hockey presence there in the past,” he said. “I’m not surprised to hear there’s interest in bringing junior hockey back and we’re interested to see what that would look like.”
The last time the KIJHL welcomed expansion teams was during the 2011/12 season with the resurrection of the Chase Heat, and the formation of the Summerland Steam.
Williams Lake last played host to a junior hockey club during the 2009/10 season with the BC Hockey League’s junior A Williams Lake Timberwolves. The Quesnel Millionaires’ played its final season in the BCHL at the Twin Ice Arenas in 2010/11 prior to being sold to an ownership group in Chilliwack and being rebranded the Langley Rivermen.
In the Cariboo, the 100 Mile Wranglers have been a staple in the KIJHL’s Doug Birks Division of the Okanagan/Shuswap Confernce since 2013 after being relocated from Penticton.
– With files from Cassidy Dankochik/Quesnel Cariboo Observer