Kamloops This Week
The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League could be continuing its push north to Williams Lake next season.
An ownership group from the lakecity led by Rob Sandrock, Tyrel Lucas and Ryan Bailey were in 100 Mile House Sunday meeting with league officials discussing expansion applications submitted by both Williams Lake and Quesnel — led by Matt Kolle — in an attempt to bring junior B hockey to each city.
“It went really well,” Sandrock told the Tribune. “They said they couldn’t find any faults in our applications and business proposals. What they are concerned about is extended travel for some teams — they don’t want to jeopardize anybody by increasing travel costs.”
Sandrock said the application information, which was submitted to the league on Dec. 1, will now be submitted to each of the KIJHL’s 20 teams where governors for each will review the information and vote on a decision.
“I’m hoping we’ll hear something by the end of the month but I’m not exactly sure,” Sandrock said.
“Now it’s just a wait and see and hopefully people are excited about it. Everybody we talk to asks what’s been happening. We need a team here and we want a team here. Friends, acquaintances and also business owners want to get behind this.
“Our city’s been kind of dormant and we want to see something positive from it.”
Tom Bachynski, spokesman for the KIJHL’s franchise committee and governor of the 100 Mile House Wranglers, meanwhile, told Kamloops This Week both Williams Lake and Quesnel have indicated they would be ready for the 2017/18 season.
The KIJHL has long considered expansion northward and was approached several years ago about putting a franchise in Quesnel.
In 2014, the Storm and 100 Mile House Wranglers played a November game in Williams Lake — a league attempt to drum up interest for a potential franchise in the lakecity.
The KIJHL now has the two bids it desired in place, but expansion is far from a done deal.
Bachynski called the prospect of adding two new franchises “a double-edged sword.”
While the applications are strong, Bachynski said adding two teams north of 100 Mile House, currently home to the league’s northernmost franchise, may stretch the boundaries of the KIJHL by reasonable limits. Should the Spokane Braves ever have to play Quesnel, they’d be in for a nearly 1,000-kilometre drive.
“It’s a matter of logistics,” Bachynski said, noting the prospect of expansion would almost certainly have to be coupled with divisional realignment.
“Junior B hockey is not a profit-making adventure. So, when you’re adding extra miles onto peoples’ road trips, there’s a cause and effect.
“First and foremost, our job as a franchise committee is to make sure our existing franchises are as healthy as possible and, when we’re looking at the applications, are we making them [current franchises] healthier or are we making them weaker?”
Sandrock, who played professionally in Ireland, Austria and Germany and split his Western Hockey League career among the Spokane Chiefs, Swift Current Broncos, Medicine Hat Tigers and Kelowna Rockets, however, believes travel logistics won’t be a big deal.
“There are ways to get around it through scheduling, so hopefully the league sees it the way we see it,” he said. “As it is right now Okanagan teams only play Okanagan teams, the Kootenay teams all play together until the final series of the playoffs. It doesn’t have to affect the Kootenay teams. It will affect the Okanagan teams a bit, but they’re already coming up here to 100 Mile anyway.”
Williams Lake, meanwhile, has not been without a junior hockey team in the past.
The Williams Lake TimberWolves played in the junior A British Columbia Hockey League but have not participated since the 2009/10 season after being suspended by the league for being a franchise not in good standing.
Sandrock said should the team’s application be approved, though, the ownership group would likely steer away from using the name “TimberWolves.”
“We haven’t decided [on a name yet],” he said. “I’m 99.9 per cent it won’t be the TimberWolves, but you can never say no.”
– With files from Greg Sabatino/Williams Lake Tribune