Two groups have approached the British Columbia Hockey League to look at getting a franchise in Cranbrook for the fall, once the Kootenay Ice relocates to Manitoba after the WHL season.
Mike Hawes, the general manager of the Prince George Spruce Kings, confirmed that two groups have made inquiries to the league about the possibility of a Jr. A hockey franchise to Cranbrook.
He says a league committee reviews applications and proposals from groups who are seeking a franchise. Once ownership and other issues are thoroughly vetted, applications are then brought before league governors for a decision.
“When a community like Cranbrook or any other community comes along that has interest in joining our league, we’re certainly going to go down that path and explore it and see if it’s viable not only for the community, but if it’s viable for the league,” said Hawes.
Prince George, which has had a junior hockey franchise since the 1970s, is geographically isolated compared to the rest of the BCHL, which has franchises in the Okanagan, Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.
If a Jr. A franchise came to Cranbrook, the Trail Smoke Eaters would be the closest rival, before having to face off against other franchises in Salmon Arm, Vernon, Kelowna, Penticton and beyond.
Hawes says the geographic travel distances are the biggest challenges for his team.
“That being said, we are one of the better franchises in our league, we do extremely well with recruiting, we do well in that standings, we made the league final last year…we’re able to meet those challenges head on, but certainly the geographic one is a big one for us,” he said.
Cranbrook previously had a Jr. A franchise in the now-defunct Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League, which folded when the Kootenay Ice came to Cranbrook in 1998. Those franchises included the Cranbrook Colts, Kimberley Dynamiters, Creston Valley Thunder, Fernie Ghostriders and more.
When the WHL arrived in Cranbrook, some of those franchises joined different leagues such as the Kootenay International Hockey League or the American West Hockey League.
Prior to the RMJHL, the Cranbrook Colts were a part of the KIJHL Jr. B league in it’s heydey, debuting in 1972 and winning five straight league championships.
Current Kootenay Ice assistant coach Jon Klemm is a graduate of the Colts program, suiting up for team in 1987 and winning a league championship before taking the next step to major-junior and a long NHL career.