The Surrey Knights went winless last season.

White Rock, Cloverdale eyed for junior ‘B’ expansion

PJHL would like to expand to 14 teams in future, says league president Ray Stonehouse.

During the official unveiling of a new junior ‘B’ hockey team in Langley last month, Pacific Junior Hockey League president Ray Stonehouse said the league was eyeing White Rock and Cloverdale – among other Lower Mainland cities – for future expansion.

Last Thursday, the PJHL announced its 11th franchise, the Langley Trappers, would begin play next season. Ideally, Stonehouse said, the circuit – for players aged 16 to 20 – would like to consist of 14 teams, though he did admit his specific mention of Cloverdale and White Rock was more “off the cuff” than anything.

Still, both communities are attractive to the growing league, he said. The trouble – as with any potential franchise – is finding available ice time, which is no small feat in the Lower Mainland, and especially on the Semiahmoo Peninsula, where minor-hockey teams are playing and practising out-of-area already.

“Absolutely, Cloverdale and White Rock are on our radar, and if somebody could manage it and make it work, we’d be interested,” Stonehouse told Peace Arch News Friday.

“But nothing is immiment and it would appear that we would proceed with 11 teams at this time. But as I mentioned (last week), there are other groups who are in the process of making applications – I probably get one or two calls a day from parties interested in a team – but the biggest thing is trying to get ice time.

“If all we needed was to have guys willing to write cheques, we’d have five new teams (immediately)… but I tell them all, ‘Go find some ice, and then get back to me.’ And so far, nobody’s come back to me with any.”

Stonehouse told PAN he wasn’t concerned with putting potential PJHL expansion teams in cities that already have junior ‘A’ teams.

In fact, he said potential partnerships between junior ‘B’ and ‘A’ teams would be welcome. The new team in Langley, for example, is to be affiliated with the junior ‘A’ Langley Rivermen of the BC Hockey League, and there are ownership ties between the two clubs, too.

“For many years, if we even smelled a relationship between a junior ‘A’ team and one of ours, we would boycott those (expansion) applications. But those were rules that were put in place 30 or 40 years ago,” Stonehouse said.

“Back then, there was a real competition and I think our teams were concerned with their survival, but that’s not the case now. We have a good group of owners and they don’t see any of alliance as a stumbling block. If a team has a good tie-in with a junior ‘A’ team, so much the better.”

The Surrey Eagles are the Semiahmoo Peninsula’s lone junior ‘A’ team, while the Surrey Knights – who relocated a year ago from the same Langley arena that the Trappers will now call home – play in the PJHL out of the North Surrey Rec Centre. There are also teams in Delta, Aldergrove, Abbotsford and Richmond, among others.

Stonehouse said his league is fine with teams playing out of smaller arenas, too, similar to White Rock’s Centennial Arena.

“We’re comfortable with at least 250-300 people (seating capacity),” he said. “Truth be told, if we had a team in a rink with 1,500 or 2,000 (seats), it would probably be a target of a junior ‘A’ team anyhow. We just try to fly under the radar.”

The Surrey Knights’ struggles – the team went winless, finishing with a 0-44 record, and lost 21 games by at least five goals – would not dissuade further expansion efforts, Stonehouse said.

“I think it was a combination of things that went wrong for the Knights. We weren’t happy with their season and I’m certain their ownership wasn’t happy, either. But they’ll learn their lessons and improve,” he said.

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