As we celebrate the BC Hockey League’s 60th Anniversary season, we will take a look back at the past and celebrate the teams and people that made this league what it is today. In this edition, we go back to the 2010s.
Our final decade recap takes a look at the 2010s, where new champions were crowned, new teams were introduced and records were broken. The BCHL also set new standards when it comes to college-committed players and performance at the NHL Draft, while a new batch of potential future NHL stars were lighting up the league.
The 2011-12 Penticton Vees were always going to be a good team, but nobody could have predicted the heights they would end up reaching. The team finished second in the Interior Conference the year before, just four points back of the eventual champion Vernon Vipers. The Vees won their first-round series with the Quesnel Millionaires that year, but were bounced by a solid Salmon Arm Silverbacks team in five games in the second round.
The Vees got off to a great start in 2011-12, going 12-3-2 through their first 17 games. On Nov. 5, 2011, they dropped a 3-2 overtime decision to the Merritt Centennials. After that, the team reeled off 42 straight wins before their streak was halted on the final game of the regular season. The 42 consecutive victories not only set a BCHL record, but established the mark for the Canadian Junior Hockey League.
That season, Penticton boasted six of the league’s top-nine leading scorers, including Joey Benik who finished second overall with 96 points in 60 games and future NHLer Mike Reilly who led all BCHL defencemen with 83 points.
In the playoffs, Penticton got by the Chilliwack Chiefs in six, the Merritt Centennials in five and beat the Powell River Kings in four straight to clinch the Fred Page Cup.
They eventually capped off their magical season with a national championship after a 4-3 win over the Woodstock Slammers of the Maritime Junior Hockey League.
Setting a New Standard at the Draft
But, if you’re looking for quality over quantity, the 2010s might be the best stretch for the league. The 2016 draft in particular set a new standard for first-round picks as three BCHL players were chosen on the first day of the draft, the most in league history.
Penticton Vees forward Tyson Jost went 10th overall to the Colorado Avalanche, Vees defenceman Dante Fabbro was taken 17th by the Nashville Predators and Chilliwack Chiefs blueliner Dennis Cholowski was chosen 20th by the Detroit Red Wings.
Later on in the decade, the BCHL also experienced one of the better drafts in history, but what made it more special was the fact it was hosted in Vancouver, allowing many of the league’s prospects to attend in person. The 2019 NHL Entry Draft saw eight BCHL players selected, an additional four that would go on to play in the league the following year and two others that had previously played in the BCHL. The highest pick that year was Victoria Grizzlies forward Alex Newhook, fresh off lighting the league up for 100 points. He was taken 16th overall by Colorado and is currently a regular in their lineup, just two years after being drafted.
“It was a pretty crazy day,” said Newhook. “It’s something you dream of your whole life. To have that kind of support there with my family and my friends from Victoria, it was everything I dreamed of and more.”
The Last True Dynasty
We finished off the 2000s with yet another championship for the Vernon Vipers. They would carry that momentum into the next decade, winning in 2010 and again in 2011 to cap a three-year stretch of winning. This run also included back-to-back national championships in 2009 and 2010. That Vipers team would be the last dynasty the BCHL would see to date. Since then, no team has won the Fred Page Cup in consecutive years and only the Vees have won it more than once.
After their record-setting championship in 2012, Penticton won again in 2015 and 2017. The Surrey Eagles rekindled their magic from the ’90s for another title in 2013, while the Coquitlam Express won their second championship in franchise history a year later.
It was the West Kelowna Warriors’ turn to win their first Fred Page Cup in 2016 and they also capped it off with a national title. The decade closed out with another first-time winner, the Prince George Spruce Kings. PG dominated the BCHL playoffs, going 16-1 en route to the Fred Page Cup.
Although they did not win the league championship, the 2018 Chilliwack Chiefs were another team that left their mark during the decade. After being ousted in the first round of the BCHL playoffs, the Chiefs still had a date at the national championship tournament over a month later as they were playing hosts to the RBC Cup. The team made a coaching change after the playoffs and promoted Brian Maloney to head coach, which seemed to spark the room. The Chiefs went on a Cinderella run at the tournament, losing once in overtime in the opener to their BCHL rivals from Wenatchee, before winning five straight to capture the national championship on home ice.
Wild Times in Wenatchee
You may have noticed one year was missing in the rundown of Fred Page Cup winners during the 2010s. That would be the 2018 title, which went to the Wenatchee Wild in only their third season in the league.
In 2015-16, the Wild joined the BCHL from the North American Hockey League to become the league’s lone American team. The BCHL had previously expanded south, but there had not been a team in the U.S. since the Bellingham Blazers left in 1995. The Wild immediately became contenders, finishing second in the Mainland Division their first year of existence. By 2017-18, Wenatchee was playing out of the Interior Division and were pushing Penticton and Vernon for top spot.
As the third seed, the Wild beat Merritt, Vernon and Trail on their way to the finals where the matched up against Prince George. The Spruce Kings were no match for Wenatchee’s high-pace offence and lockdown defensive play and the Wild skated to a five-game series win and a championship in year three as a member of the BCHL.
Wreaking Having on the Record Books
Former Penticton Vees and Powell River Kings netminder Michael Garteig clinched multiple records in the early 2010s after he wrapped up a three-year career in the league. He set the all-time career shutouts record with 12 and the career wins mark with 92. He posted the single-season record for goals-against average in 2011-12 with 1.69, as well as the single-season record for shutouts with seven. That shutout mark was equaled in 2017-18 by Vernon Vipers goalie Ty Taylor. The two netminders are tied with former Merritt and Prince George goalie Brad Thiessen who originally set the mark back in 2005-06. The single-season save percentage record was also set during the decade when Vernon Vipers goalie Darion Hanson posted a mark of .945.
In addition, the league reached new heights in the 2010s when it comes to NCAA scholarships. The BCHL saw an increase in college-committed players every year after 2014-15 and the league’s new high was set during the 2019-20 season when it finished with 173 players with NCAA Division I scholarships.
At the conclusion of the 2017-18 campaign, it was announced that longtime Commissioner John Grisdale was retiring from his post. Grisdale was at the helm of the league office for 15 years.
Later that year, the league hired former sports executive Chris Hebb as the second Commissioner in league history. He remains in the position today.
Since the end of the 2010s, the BCHL has not awarded a league champion because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The league was forced to cancel its playoffs after the first round in 2019 and played a shortened 20-game pod season with no playoffs in 2020-21.
In 2020, the BCHL introduced its latest expansion team, the Cranbrook Bucks. The Bucks inaugural campaign was the shortened pod season, but its first full-length season came this year. The team qualified for the postseason as the fifth seed in the Interior Conference.
2021 saw yet another standout performance at the NHL Draft as well. Former Trail Smoke Eaters forward Kent Johnson was drafted fifth overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets after playing his freshman season at the University of Michigan. Johnson won the league MVP in his final year in the BCHL and also eclipsed the 100-point mark as the league’s top scorer.