A second independent junior hockey league is showing interest in bringing an expansion team to Williams Lake for the 2021/22 season.
The Western States Hockey League (WSHL) is an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU)-sanctioned junior A tier 2 ice hockey league, operating outside of Hockey Canada. It was founded in 1993.
Ron White, commissioner of the WSHL, posted the league’s responses on YouTube to 13 questions gathered through a City of Williams Lake survey launched toward the end of February. In the survey, the city asked the community whether it would be intersted in bringing a junior A hockey team to the lakecity — specifically, a different league, the Greater Metro Hockey League (GMHL) — also an independent.
Ian James, director of community services with the city, said he reached out to the WSHL as part of the community engagement process, noting, as a former Canadian Olympic athlete in 1988 and 1992, he is familiar with its governing body, the AAU.
“They’re governed by the AAU which, North America wide, has more benefits than Hockey Canada,” James said. “All the sports want to participate in the AAU tournaments because that’s where the scholarships are coming from.”
James also said the AAU has a long-term athlete development model he likes.
“From a community viewpoint their players would be coming here — they have kids from Europe, all over — and we would be looking at billet families to take them in, so they will truly be intertwined with the community.”
The WSHL proposal and GMHL proposals, and both leagues’ YouTube responses to community questions, will be discussed at the upcoming Central Cariboo Joint Committee (CCJC) meeting March 24.
“We want to hear what joint has to say because, obviously, we’re talking about a city team in mind,” James said. “I’d like them to be part of the process to be sure the group coming in is scrupulous, and there aren’t any issues.”
James also said the WSHL is open to rostering local players.
“I think we’ve had some good discussions so far (in the community) about bringing in a team,” he said.
“We want the community to be informed of the whole picture.”
After cancelling its 2020/21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the WSHL is looking to expand into B.C.
The league announced its newest member, the Vancouver Devils, playing out of the Fraser Valley, earlier this year. The league also houses teams in Barrhead, Cold Lake, Edson and Hinton in Alberta, along with Bellingham, Seattle, Dallas, Wichita and Valencia in the U.S.
Teams play approximately a 50-game regular season schedule designed to mimic what players would experience at the collegiate level.
The WSHL showed interest in expanding into Williams Lake in 2018, however, the city declined the offer.
In response to the GMHL proposal earlier this month, both the Williams Lake Minor Hockey Association and the Central Interior Hockey League’s Williams Lake Stampeders — a senior men’s AA team — voiced opposition to the city playing host to team not sanctioned by Hockey Canada.