Intercollegiate hockey league shoots for expansion, but TRU shuts the door

TRU not into hockey revival

Despite overtures from the league, Thompson Rivers University has no interest in making a return to intercollegiate hockey.

BC Intercollegiate Hockey League president Chris Munshaw said the league currently has expansion aspirations in the region, having met with about four schools about the possibility.

The most recent addition to the league was the Logan Lake Miners, who joined in 2022. The team is made up of full-time students attending TRU and the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology in Merritt.

TRU is not involved in any talks for expansion, but Munshaw told Castanet Kamloops he would love to see the league return to the Tournament Capital. The TRU WolfPack, a club team, competed in the BCIHL between 2009 and 2014, playing their home games at Memorial Arena.

Curtis Atkinson, TRU's athletic director, said the university doesn’t have any plans to return to the ice.

“We're not in any talks with [the BCIHL] right now,” Atkinson said, adding they had spoken about the possibility two years ago before Logan Lake joined the league.

“Our position hasn't changed from where it was a couple of years ago. We don't anticipate bringing back Wolfpack hockey anytime soon.”

Players drive expansion demand

Five teams play in the BCIHL — the Miners, the Simon Fraser University Red Leafs, the Okanagan Lakers, the Victoria Vikes and the Vancouver Island University Mariners.

Munshaw said the BCIHL would like to expand to another two or three locations in the next three years, which would enable more regional games and reduce travel costs.

Asked why the BCIHL has its eye on the Okanagan, Munshaw said there has been a lot of interest from graduating junior hockey players in the area.

“A lot of students want to stay home, and earn their education at home and then begin their careers at home,” Munshaw said.

He said there are challenges, however, in getting post secondary institutions' support. He said the league generally does not require much resources from universities because teams use a competitive club model, meaning they exist on player fees, fundraising, donations and sponsorships — not typically reliant on a lot of university funds.

Kamloops market wanted

Munshaw said Thompson Rivers University is “always on our radar” when it comes to expansion, but there's a big shortage of available ice in Kamloops.

“And that's our biggest hurdle right now,” Munshaw said, adding there are already junior teams, minor hockey and other user groups jostling for ice time in the city.

As a university league, Munshaw said their schedule is light, with only about 14 home games. But, while they do not command a lot of ice time, it’s needed during primetime hours on weekends.

“That's kind of a typical challenge we run into, and then in Kamloops, specifically, there's just not enough arenas, I think, for the amount of teams that are operating there right now,” Munshaw said.

A lack of available ice time is something the Kamloops Minor Hockey Association has run into as well for the 1,200 youth enrolled in the organization.

The City of Kamloops has identified a need for more indoor ice. There are currently six sheets available in five arenas — Brocklehurst Arena, McArthur Island, Memorial Arena, Sandman Centre and Valleyview Arena.

According to the city’s 2019 Recreation Master Plan, the overall use of available indoor ice capacity exceeded 90 per cent from September until March. Prime time use of available capacity exceeded 120 per cent.

Adding ice rinks in Kamloops is one of the multiple sports and entertainment projects identified in city council's Build Kamloops initiative.

TRU sees myriad issues

Atkinson said any new sports program at TRU needs to have a sustainable business model showing it can survive financially over the long-term without draining resources and staffing, and they do not see that in another Wolfpack hockey team at this time.

He said while he respects the BCIHL, Kamloops' ice time issue is also a factor and TRU’s focus is on trying to elevate its current sports teams to the level they need to be successful before putting resources into other programs.

“At this point, we're not committed to allocating any additional resources, financial, staffing or facility-type resources to the program,” Atkinson said.

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