CIHL 2016 playoff MVP Brendan DeVries (left) with then-captain Ian Smith holding the championship trophy, and last season’s captain Randall Groot. Xuyun Zeng photo

CIHL prepares to shrink next season

If the Smithers Steelheads are on the bench next year, only five hockey teams are left in the CIHL.

The Central Interior Hockey League is taking a hit, with the Smithers Steelheads likely on the bench next season.

The Smithers Steelheads told The Interior News that they’ve been playing short for a few years, and this year they simply haven’t gotten enough players.

“I’ve spoken to people but they just can’t commit to playing for the team,” said Steelhead coach Tom DeVries.

“They have too much other stuff going on and we just cannot get a committed 15 guys. It’s been the last two years like that and we just can’t do it anymore.”

It drops the league to five teams and a schedule of likely 16 games, but the good news is that the Terrace River Kings still plan to ice a team.

“Oh yeah, we’ll have a team,” said last year’s River Kings coach Kevin Legros. “We’ve got lots of bodies, so we’re okay.”

The likely drop out would mean one less team in the CIHL, and Legros says it’s a real downer for the River Kings and the other teams in the league.

“It sucks because [the Steelheads] have always been good competition for us,” said Legros. “We’ve had a pretty good rivalry against them lately, and it brings our level of play up when we play good teams like them.”

The change will mean a 16 game schedule for next winter.

Five teams remain in the league for the 2017-2018 season — the Terrace River Kings, Kitimat Ice Demons, Prince Rupert Rampage, Williams Lake Stampeders, and Quesnel Kangaroos.

Despite losing every game last season, the Ice Demons have the players they need for a Kitimat team.

There’s enough players for a full team, a new coach at the helm (Ryan Baker), and seven new players even expressed interest at a recent recruitment drive in Kitimat, said their recruiting committee member Josh Slanina.

CIHL president Ron German said it sure is a shame losing Smithers and it would be a “juggling act” to maintain the league’s 16 game schedule.

“It’s a pretty big shame for a big hockey town like Smithers to not be involved,” German said. “It’s kind of big for our league, but we must go on.”

While there were other communities talking about forming a team, nothing has come together in time for next season.

It was only three years ago that the Houston Luckies dropped out of the CIHL, citing player shortage just like the Steelheads.

Other teams that have previously been in the CIHL include Hazelton Wolverines, Lac La Hache Tomahawks, and the Vanderhoof Omineca Ice.

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