Around the BCHL: B.C. junior A league dominates Team Canada West roster

Around the BCHL is a look at what’s going on in the league and throughout the junior A world.

Welcome to the December 6, 2018 edition of Around the BCHL

I was up in the Prospera Centre press box for a rare Wednesday matinee game yesterday between the Chilliwack Chiefs and Langley Rivermen, and two things got my attention.

On the ice, the Chiefs beat Langley 3-1 in a match that included three fights, and I was trying to remember if I’ve seen any fights at all this season. That element really has disappeared from hockey, but the third fight reminded me why it was such an integral part of hockey culture for over a century.

Late in the second period, Langley defenceman Jake Livingstone leveled Chilliwack’s Jacques Bouquot with a borderline hit at the Chiefs blueline. It looked like a blindside shot to me, and Chilliwack’s Brody Gagno thought so too. The rookie tracked down Livingstone and the two dropped the mitts for a pretty good scrap.

Livingstone had to eat some rights (so did Gagno), got tossed from the game and maybe he’ll think twice before delivering a sketchy hit in the future.

I was almost certain Gagno was going to have an instigator penalty tacked on, but he didn’t, which makes me think referees Troy Paterson and Brennan Walker acknowledged the need for some player policing.

Too often, a hit like Livingstone’s isn’t dealt with and a game spirals out of control. In this instance the players, Gagno and Livingstone, settled it on the spot and defused the bomb. In an alternate universe where they didn’t fight the game may have devolved into something ugly in the final frame, but in this universe the teams played a relatively calm third period.

I’m not a fan of fighting for intimidation or momentum, but here’s one instance where it served a purpose.

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The other thing that caught my eye came off the ice as Hockey Canada announced the Team Canada West roster for the upcoming World Junior A Challenge.

There’s been a lot of chatter this season about whether the BCHL is losing its status as the top junior A league in Canada, owing mostly to questionable ownership decisions in some key markets (fingers pointed mostly at Surrey and Nanaimo).

Seems alarmist and knee-jerk to me, and the Team Canada West roster says the BCHL is doing just fine.

Of the 22 roster spots available, 14 were snapped up by BCHLers. The AJHL (Alberta), SJHL (Saskatchewan), MJHL (Manitoba) and SIJHL (Superior International/Ontario) combined to snag eight spots. The AJHL ended up with five of those with the MJHL taking the other three.

So, at least on one half of the country, the BCHL still reigns supreme by a wide margin.

If you’re wondering who the top dog in the east is, it seems to be the Central Canadian Hockey League, which snared 10 of the 22 spots on Team Canada East. The Ontario Junior Hockey League took eight and the Quebec league grabbed four.

The World Junior A Challenge starts Sunday with Team Canada West opening against the United States.

If you’ve got time to watch, here’s the entire 2017 gold medal game between Team Canada West and Team United States.

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Victoria Grizzlies fans will have the most reason to tune into this tournament, with five players in the mix. Forwards Alex Newhook, Alexander Campbell and Riley Hughes and defencemen Jeremie Bucheler and Carter Berger are all in Bonnyville, Alberta.

This is the double-edged sword of best-on-best competition.

It’s a fantastic opportunity for the Victoria players, especially Newhook, who’s viewed as a potential first round NHL draft pick next June.

But if Team Canada West advances to the gold medal match, the Grizzlies could be without their top guns for four games. Powell River doesn’t have a single player involved in the World Junior A Challenge and the Kings sit just four points back of Victoria in the Island division.

If a full-strength Powell River squad takes care of business while the shorthanded Grizzlies struggle, the division could change hands before the Victoria-five return.

There’s no way around it if you want players to experience this kind of tournament, but there could be major implications down the road if Powell River ends up winning the division by a narrow margin and having home-ice advantage against the Grizzlies in the playoffs.

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The Coquitlam Express must believe they have a chance to make some noise this spring.

The team announced Tuesday morning that they’ve acquired forward Jared Power (great name!) from the AJHL’s Grand Prairie Storm in return for future considerations. Power is a 20 year old forward who was wearing an ‘A’ for the Storm. He had 11 goals and 19 points in 30 games, and it will be interesting to see how much of that offence travels with him to the Express.

League to league scoring equivalency is fascinating.

Like a major league pitcher going from the National League to the American League, you wonder how a player will hold up in a tougher environment. I saw this last year when the Chiefs acquired PJ Marrocco around midseason from the AJHL’s Bonnyville Pontiacs. At the time, Marrocco was leading the entire AJHL in scoring with 41 points in 28 games. When he came west, the shifty forward was still a good offensive player, but his stats with the Chiefs (28-11-12-23) weren’t nearly what they were in Alberta.

That said, if Coquitlam’s new player brings leadership, physicality (he’s six-foot-two and 195 pounds) and the ability to be a .5 points-per-game type, the Express will be better for it. After a red-hot start that had them near the top of the league, Coquitlam’s gone 2-6 over their last eight games and faded to third in the Mainland division.

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I talked last week about Merritt’s Van Unen brothers committing to NCAA programs.

Here’s Mike with some thoughts on Northern Michigan.

And here’s Rylan discussing Alaska-Fairbanks.

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There will be a lot of teddy bears flying through the air this weekend at BCHL arenas.

If you haven’t been in the house for one of these, they’re a lot fun.

Here’s how it’s looked the last four years at the South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton.

Eric Welsh is the sports editor at the Chilliwack Progress and has been covering junior A hockey in B.C. and Alberta since 2003.

Email eric.welsh@theprogress.com

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