by Stephen Dafoe
with files from Morinville News Staff
The Western States Hockey League (WSHL) are currently looking to establish Junior A Hockey Teams in BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan through the Western Provinces Hockey Association (WPHA) – the WSHL’s newly-minted Canadian Division.
The hope is to get six to eight teams established in the region for the inaugural 2018-2019 season, and Morinville is one of the communities considered for a team.
“We’ve been in an informal discussion with Morinville for probably going on a year. There has been some groundwork laid,” said Derek Prue, WPHA’s international expansion, noting that board approval to move forward into Canada is recent.
The WSHL was established in 1993 and operate in 13 states. The league announced its Canadian expansion in Las Vegas Dec. 20.
“We’re going into more formal discussions [with Morinville] at this point,” Prue noted. “Our next steps are to enter into lease discussions with the municipalities and make sure of scheduling and those sorts of things.”
Prue says the league is on a tight timeline if it wishes to have players on the ice in the fall. Cold Lake is already on side, but the WPHA will need another five teams minimum to make a 2018 start doable.
Nondisclosure agreements with some communities prevent Prue from identifying some of the other municipalities considering launching a Jr. A club.
“What I can say is our protected territory is the northern half of BC, Alberta, and Saskatchewan,” he said. “Rather than go north-south like a typical Jr. A model, this is a bit of an east to west.”
The initial six or eight teams will come from the three provinces with travel to BC and Saskatchewan regular road trips for a Morinville team. Prue does not see this as problematic as all of the league games will be on the weekends with practices during the week.
“It is not uncommon to travel that far certainly,” Prue said, adding the league will run a 52-game schedule.
Whether or not Morinville will be part of the Canadian expansion or not remains to be seen. Prue said the league has about a month to finetune everything and an announcement is expected in February.
“If we can finalize our inaugural original six, and – if we cant because obviously, it is a tight timeline – we can table things to 2019,” he said. We have committed to move as far as we can.”
Prue said Morinville is a frontrunner community in the discussions. “They’ve expressed interest from the beginning,” he said, noting the planned arena was a driver.
Overall, the league believes there is a need for more opportunity for high-level players.
“There are probably 300 to 400 players currently in the three provinces that are already playing in leagues like the WSHL, and currently there are probably 80 or 90 players from the three provinces playing in the States,” Prue said.
“We’re looking to give opportunities to those guys closer to home, and give the chance to communities that need and want Junior A hockey in their towns and cities that just don’t have the opportunity based on existing leagues.”