Public feedback on a proposed Greater Metro Hockey League expansion team in Williams Lake will be discussed and explored later this month.
The GMHL bills itself as a tier 2 junior A men’s league and is not sanctioned by Hockey Canada. Pending public feedback, the team could begin play by the fall of this year.
The GMHL made its initial presentation to the CCJC, which was approved unanimously, on Dec. 16 where both councils asked Ian James, director of community services, to prepare a report on the potential for a team in the league.
“The councillors liked what they heard and thought we should move to the next step, which is more community engagement,” James said.
The proposal, however, isn’t sitting well with minor hockey and the local senior men’s team.
The Williams Lake Minor Hockey Association and the Williams Lake Stampeders’ concerns stem from a city report shared at the CCJC meeting on Feb. 24 which noted both organizations would support a GMHL team.
In the same report the city said it was in favour of the GMHL expansion team on the condition ice rental payments are made in advance and its insurance policy was kept up to date.
“Both the Williams Lake Stampeders and Williams Lake Minor Hockey Association are supportive of the GMHL expansion and are willing to share ice times with the GMHL Jr. A team,” the report reads.
WLMHA president Mike Rispin contacted the Tribune noting he thinks WLMHA is being misrepresented in its support, and said he has reached out to the city to express the association’s concerns.
“The impression we were left with was this was a sanctioned junior A team, similar to the (BCHL junior A) Timberwolves,” Rispin said.
He added since they’ve been made aware the team would not be sanctioned by Hockey Canada, they can’t provide support as a member association of BC Hockey and Hockey Canada.
Rispin cautioned players from getting involved without certain guarantees from GMHL as they may not be eligible for Hockey Canada programming for the remainder of the season once they play for a non-sanctioned team.
“Our support for this is, as always, with an eye to see as much community hockey as possible but simply can’t support it in a non-sanctioned form.”
The Central Interior Hockey League Williams Lake Stampeders said they were only asked if they could accommodate ice time sharing, which they said they could.
“We’re a community team and wouldn’t attempt to block anyone that would like to expand into our community, however, we would like to see a team that makes sense for our hometown,” the Stamps’ statement reads.
James said a Zoom meeting was arranged with all ice user groups in December to discuss the GMHL coming to Williams Lake, and to hear questions and concerns. He said neither WLMHA or the Williams Lake Stampeders attended.
He added through discussions with WLMHA staff and a letter of support from the Stampeders agreeing to share ice times, he believed there were no concerns.
“We did not mention to any group whether the GMHL was sanctioned or unsanctioned,” James said. “I don’t think we need to do that. Ultimately, in doing this survey, we will get feedback and take those comments and concerns on to the GMHL who will respond to the comments. We wanted to hear from the community because they are the ones who have to support this team.”
James said he’s glad both organizations have come forward, and said it’s not too late for them to say they are not in favour.
The GMHL was started in Ontario in 2007 and expanded into Alberta in 2019 by absorbing some of the former teams of the Western Provinces Hockey Association. The league has no other teams in B.C., however, expansion director Derek Prue told Black Press Media they are hoping to expand into at least three northern B.C. markets next season.
Addressing concerns around player eligibility, Prue said Hockey Canada’s bylaws don’t reflect the reality on the ground when it comes to players moving around freely between leagues.
“There’s no downtime. There’s no penalty,” he said. “In the last two seasons we’ve been operating there are probably 20 examples of players that have gone from Hockey Canada-based teams mid season, or the very next season.”
Prue also said a team in Williams Lake would be beneficial to the entire community as players are always willing to mentor minor hockey players, and the senior men’s team would benefit long-term with an increased pool of players to draw from.
Prue added the GMHL will not require any capital funding or investment from the city.
“Williams Lake has a long history of junior A hockey,” Prue said. “We’re really excited about getting into northern B.C. and having Williams Lake be an integral part,” he said.
Concerns expressed by city staff in its report to joint committee Feb. 24 included inadequate change rooms and storage areas, COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on gatherings and events, a risk of GMHL expansion teams folding in Alberta and B.C. communities if not supported and pending commitment from similar expansion team applications in Quesnel and from the Lower Mainland.
The GMHL’s bid to host a team in Quesnel has also come under fire from the CIHL’s Quesnel Kangaroos and the Quesnel and District Minor Hockey Association. Both sent letters to the North Cariboo Joint Planning Committee last month questioning whether the city should support a non-sanctioned league team.
Williams Lake’s last junior A hockey team was the Williams Lake Timberwolves of the BC Hockey League, which played its final season in 2009/10.
– With files from Cassidy Dankochik/Quesnel Cariboo Observer