Squamish Cougars, WHA progressing 

Two more franchises being announced, rosters beginning to take shape

A lot has happened since the resurrected World Hockey Association announced plans to create a Junior West Hockey League with clubs in Western Canada and the U.S. – including the newly founded Squamish Cougars.

At the time of the announcement last month only four communities had signed on to host teams, including the Cougars and New Westminster Whalers in B.C. and the Bellingham Bulls and Kent Fighting Saints in Washington state. Next week, says WHA vice president of operations Gary Scott, the league will announce two more teams, one in B.C. and one in Washington to bring the total number of teams up to six.

"There was a lot of interest in franchises, but in the end we went with the teams that were the best fit for us," said Scott. "A lot of people didn’t know what the costs were of running a junior hockey team, or what kind of work it requires. It’s a major commitment for the owner and the community."

Scott says it was important for the league to start small and organizers was prepared to go ahead with just four franchises if deals could not be reached. By next season they hope to have 12 teams in the league.

In addition to the two new franchises, the WHA is in the process of filling out rosters. This week the league will announce dates for drop-in evaluation and training camps, which will take place in Langley in early and late July. Representatives from all of the teams will be on hand to draft players.

Aside from the draft, Scott says he is already putting together a list of potential players, as well as agreements with other junior teams.

"Some appointments will be open to some of the players that have been cut from WHL teams, but it’s in the interest of those teams and players that these kids continue to play," said Scott. "It’s a high calibre of player, but sometimes there’s no room for them one year for whatever reason."

Scott adds that he fully expects other leagues will scout the WHA for talent.

The league is accepting players up to and including the age of 20, with no minimum age restrictions – something that’s possible because the WHA is not affiliated with Hockey Canada or Hockey USA.

The progression in leagues that belong to those organizations can be tough because not all kids grow or develop skills at the same rate, and the WHA will mean a second chance for a lot of talented players. The league will emphasize player development, with teams getting ice time almost daily.

While the WHA is in a good position for sponsorship, Scott acknowledges that it will take some time for franchises to find sponsors of their own. Host cities are expected to have offices in place by July 1, as well as coaches and front office staff. A few franchises are still finalizing agreements with their arenas.

One of the most enthusiastic communities so far has been Squamish. Since the team was announced Scott says he has received numerous calls from residents wanting to know how they can help out.

"They’re really looking forward to junior hockey in that community," said Scott. "I’ve been asked about everything from booster clubs to volunteers, everyone wants to be involved. The response has been incredible."

This is not the first version of the World Hockey Association. The WHA was a professional league in the early 1970s that was created to rival the NHL, and was itself folded into the NHL by the end of the decade. The Alberta Oilers, now the Edmonton Oilers, were part of the league, along with the Winnipeg Jets, Quebec Nordiques and New England Whalers.

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