Williams Lake eyed for junior ‘A’ hockey expansion

The WSHL appears to have interest in establishing a junior 'A' expansion team in Williams Lake.

The U.S.-based Western States Hockey League (WSHL) appears to have interest in establishing a junior ‘A’ expansion team in Williams Lake.

The league, which currently houses 23 teams across four divisions in the U.S., announced its approval to expand into the Canadian market during its annual showcase tournament in Las Vegas in December and hopes to develop markets in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan for the 2018/19 season through the Western Provinces Hockey Association (WPHA)’s freshly-minted Canadian Division.

The league, said Derek Prue, WPHA’s international expansion co-ordinator, is currently in discussions with several municipalities to establish six to eight teams for its inaugural season.

“We’re in discussion with Williams Lake [city] administration to look at if they’re actually willing and able to accommodate junior hockey,” Prue said. “It’s a great hockey town. I know it’s a great junior town. I played with the [Williams Lake] Mustangs back in 1991.”

Prue said in the absence of a local ownership group, the league would run the team.

“Our commitment to the WSHL is to try to get it [the Canadian Division] launched for the 2018 season,” he said. “We’ve been at this a couple years now and we’ve got some strong communities that have shown interest.”

Asked how the league would manage to pull together a coaching staff, management and roster by next season, Prue said while they will be on a tight timeline, the WSHL is not constrained by Hockey Canada’s ruleset.

“There are a lot more international players in the WSHL — a pretty big pool of Europeans, normally,” he said. “But right now there are also about 300 players that live in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan that are already leaving their hometowns to play in this league.”

Geoff Paynton, the city’s director of community services, confirmed the league has made contact with the city with interest in starting a team in the lakecity.

“Of course, Williams Lake has an interest in bringing some kind of junior team to Williams Lake,” Paynton said. “We’ve invited them [the WSHL] to come give a presentation to joint committee. At the end of the day it’ll be up to the elected officials to decide if that’s something they want to pursue. If it’s a good pitch we’ll see what happens.”

Prue added if the city decides to move forward with the idea, exposure camps and recruitment camps would be scheduled for the summer of 2018.

“We’ll continue speaking with the administration and executives in the different communities and get commitment that there are enough weekend dates open [for ice], and that the executive, mayor and council are committed and want a junior ‘A’ hockey team in town,” Prue said.

“Based on that we enter into lease discussions and move the ball down the field from there.”