Wild joining Interior Division

The Wenatchee Wild are joining the B.C. Hockey League’s Interior Division

Penticton Vees Nicholas Jones gets a forearm to the face while trying to plaster Wenatchee Wild player Austin Chavez against the boards. The Vees and other B.C. Hockey League Interior Division teams will see more of the Wild, who have moved to the Interior Division. Kristi Patton/Western News

The B.C. Hockey League’s Interior Division just got stronger.

The league announced that the Wenatchee Wild, last seasons BCHL regular season champs, received the vote during its annual general meeting June 9 to move from the Mainland Division to the Interior for next season.

League commissioner John Grisdale said this was a move the Wild always wanted.

“The main idea behind it was to be able to run our playoffs with one bye, not two,” said Grisdale.

All the teams in the Interior Division still qualify for the playoffs, but the first-place team gets a bye for the opening round.

“I think every team wants to get in the playoffs,” he said. “Kids want to be in the playoffs.”

Penticton Vees coach-general manager Fred Harbinson is excited to see the Interior Division get another strong team.

“I think it’s the strongest division from top to bottom in junior hockey,” said Harbinson. “We just added another great organization that does it the right way.”

Their only visit to Penticton last season attracted a crowd of more than 4,000. Harbinson believes that fans from both teams will make the trip to the respective rinks to watch the teams collide. Harbinson looks forward to the teams playing six times.

In other league news, the BCHL has created a mandate that will see each of its players undergo base-line concussion tests prior to participating in league games. The initial testing will be completed at the 2017 Bauer BCHL Showcase. When new players join, they will be tested prior to playing in their first game. This initiative is part of the BCHL’s ongoing efforts to ensure player safety. The league has also renewed its commitment to an existing partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association of B.C. (CMHA BC) via its Talk Today Program. Each team has a CMHA liaison who provides referrals to mental health and addictions support.

Additional resources have been committed to the Ultimate Toolkit program for fan engagement and ticket sales. The initial phase of the program, in place for the 2017 BCHL playoffs, saw an increase in attendance of close to 24 per cent over the 2016 playoffs. Also, clubs will be pursuing upgrades to their broadcast systems to get high-definition video for pay-per-view customers on HockeyTV. Several BCHL teams had HD in place last season and the goal is to have all arenas with upgraded cameras for 2017-18.

“The experience for the fans will be better. Those people that have bought season passes will see better quality video,” said Grisdale, adding the league wants to keep up as technology gets better.

The dates for the 2017 Bauer BCHL Showcase are Sept. 20 to 24 at Prospera Centre in Chilliwack. All games this year will take place on the arena’s main sheet of ice.

The board of governors is also fully in support and looking forward to the first-ever BCHL Exposure Camp which is happening July 1 to 3 at Richmond Olympic Oval. The camp is at full capacity with 132 elite young players and their families coming to learn from BCHL coaches and find out more about the Junior A – National Collegiate Athletic Association development path.

Finally, the league named two individuals for excellence in the administrative and promotional aspects for the league. Wenatchee Wild governor David White was named Executive of the Year while Chilliwack Chiefs director of marketing Barry Douglas was named Marketer of the Year. The 2017-18 season will be the 56th for the BCHL. Details are still be finalized for the regular season schedule and it should be announced by the end of June.