The KIJHL is moving north.
The junior B hockey league approved the relocation of the Penticton Lakers to 100 Mile House during a conference call on Thursday. The 100 Mile House team, to be called the Wranglers, is to begin play in September.
Barry Dewar, the owner and general manager of the Kamloops Storm, is the chair of the KIJHL's franchise committee. He said Thursday that the group in 100 Mile House will be purchasing the Lakers from the Okanagan Hockey Academy (OHA).
The move is pending B.C. Hockey approval, which Dewar said is "probably a formality."
"We think they'll be a rival for (the Storm) similar to (the Chase Heat)," Dewar said. "There are a lot of people from 100 Mile House who shop and do business in Kamloops and we'd expect fans to make the trip down here for games."
100 Mile House is quite a bit outside of the KIJHL's "footprint," where teams historically have been based. The league's northernmost team currently is in Golden, followed by Revelstoke and then Kamloops.
Dewar said the move to 100 Mile House "is a great opportunity for the league to look at expanding north," but said that a move north isn't actually in the plans.
With junior A franchises folding in Quesnel and Williams Lake in recent years, both communities are without hockey teams. Dewar said the league's franchise committee would "definitely take a strong look" if one of those towns wanted to join the KIJHL, but "they haven't approached us."
Dewar said that once the OHA announced last month it intended to sell the Lakers, "four of five" locations other than 100 Mile House expressed interest.
"I talked to three of them personally," he said. "They said they couldn't make it work at this time, but all three said they would love to have a franchise in the future."
Dewar wouldn't say which locations he talked to, but logical options for KIJHL expansion would be towns like Lumby and Oliver, which had franchises in the short-lived World Hockey Association, Sparwood, which had teams in the KIJHL between 1981-85 and 1987-94, or Nakusp, which will be playing host to a game between the Sicamous Eagles and Castlegar Rebels tonight.
It's a great day for 100 Mile House, which has been working to get a franchise for five years. The people behind the push thought they had wrangled the Grizzlies away from Revelstoke before this season, but the deal didn't work out.
According to their website,the Wranglers already have 323 commitments for season tickets -although no money has been collected - and Dewar, as chair of the four-man franchise committee, was impressed by the application.
"100 Mile has put a good proposal out there," Dewar said. "There are a lot of benefits."
Located two hours north of Kamloops, the district of 100 Mile House is home to about 20,000 people. The town is located 100 miles up the Cariboo Wagon Trail from Lillooet, hence the name.
Its rink is the South Cariboo Recreation Centre, which is 10 years old and has the capacity to seat 700 fans. It has played host to B.C. Hockey events in the past.
If B.C. Hockey approves the move, there will have to be a change of divisions within the KIJHL's Okanagan-Shuswap Conference.
Right now, the Storm, Heat, Grizzlies, Eagles and North Okanagan Knights play in the Doug Birks Division, with the Kelowna Chiefs, Lakers, Princeton Posse, Summerland Steam and Osoyoos Coyotes comprising the Okanagan Division.
With 100 Mile House in the picture, there are four possible moves the league is considering. The one Dewar favours is moving the Knights, who play their home games in Armstrong, into the Okanagan Division.
The realignment decision will be made at the league's annual general meeting in June.
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