The Central Interior Hockey League has made some changes to the upcoming 2014-15 season that could make it harder for the Smithers Steelheads to make it into the playoffs.
The league changes, made at the annual general meeting in May, include one less team, and lowering the number of regular season games to 16 from 18. Instead of all eight teams making it to the playoffs, only the top four will now compete for the Coy Cup.
“The Houston Luckies are having a lot of player commitment issues, especially with the mill closing down. They lost a few players and some guys are going to school,” said CIHL President J.C. Brown.
“They couldn’t get a commitment for a full roster in the community so they had to pull out this season.”
Smithers Steelheads head coach Tom DeVries said the loss of the Luckies means the end of a great rivalry between the two teams.
“That’s too bad, it was a great rivalry, people travel back and forth all the time,” he said, noting that games between the teams were often quite busy and very competitive.
“Hopefully, some of those Houston players will want to come play for us,” he said. “Some of our numbers are down and getting lower every year due to everyone getting older and families.”
Skylar Hasell, who used to play for the Luckies, is disappointed he won’t be able to return to the ice with the same team, but said he may consider playing for other teams.
“I think it’s sad, it’s nice to have a team and it’s good for the community,” he said. “I’m open to joining another team.”
According to Brown, the changes will also affect travel times for many teams in the west.
“For a team like the Steelheads, they’re going to be travelling more to the west to places like Terrace, Rupert and Kitimat,” he said, adding that travel times will not affect teams back east as much.
Brown said some teams wanted more time off to spend with their families, which is why they reduced the number of games played.
DeVries echoed Brown, adding he hopes the lighter schedule will encourage more players to join the league.
“Sometimes the season [had] too many games, took up too many weekends and I think it deterred some players from wanting to play. So, I hope it will encourage more players to come out,” said DeVries.
Despite the changes, Brown said the league is still in good shape.
“Things look pretty good, although it doesn’t look good that we went back. A team like Houston mentioned they’re going to try and get back into the league next year,” said Brown.
He added that Mackenzie and Omineca have also shown interested in rejoining the league for the 2015-16 season.
“There’s been interest in growth, which is good to see. We could be up to as many as 10 teams next year,” he said.
Last season, the Steelheads defeated the Williams Lake Stampeders to capture their third straight CIHL championship.