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Junior puck to drop in Squamish

New league, new team, new opportunities for an arena



Squamish has scored a brand new junior hockey team.

The "Squamish Cougars", donning their dark green and gold jerseys, will take the ice this September at Brennan Park Recreational Centre.

The Cougars will be a part of the brand new Junior West Hockey League from the World Hockey Association Corporation. The league will be open to players up to and including age 20, with no restrictions on minimum age. It is expected to be "very high Junior B calibre" hockey.

"We can create a very strong team for the community and we’re certainly looking to be a very stable force in the community," said the WHA’s Vice President of Operations Gary Scott.

"I just think that we’re going to provide a product that the local people are going to be happy to come out and see. I think (Squamish) will probably be one of our best locations."

There will possibly be six teams in the league in its inaugural season. Four, including the Squamish team, have been approved already. There will also be teams in New Westminster and in Bellingham and Kent, Washington. Next year organizers are looking to have 12 to 16 teams in the league with Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Hull as the WHA Commissioner.

The league will not be sanctioned by Hockey Canada or Hockey USA.

Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland said the community was lucky to get the team. He tried to entice the Chilliwack Chiefs to his community when they were looking for a new home. They ended up choosing Abbotsford instead. But the exercise served to highlight just how much Squamish residents wanted a local team to call their own.

"During that one thing we found out, which we thought we knew anyway, but we clearly found out that the community had a huge appetite for high quality hockey on a regular basis in Squamish," said Sutherland.

The Cougars will play in the 600-seat Brennan Park arena during their inaugural season. But now the push in on to bring a new arena to Squamish. With a tenant already on the books, Sutherland is hoping to garner support in the provincial government or elsewhere to get a 2,000- to 2,500-seat arena in town.

"This is to us one way to get a new rink in our community," said Sutherland,

"We’re all going to work together to get a new arena for the future because they (the WHA) have big plans for this league and we’re fortunate enough to be in on the ground floor. Part of the commitment on all parties is to work hard to get a new arena in Squamish for them to play in in the future and from our point of view… to make a new rink financially we need a major tenant. So now we have the major tenant and now we have to work with the province and with others to make sure that we get a new rink for our community."

There is no financial risk to Squamish in bringing the Cougars to town. They will rent the ice time at commercial rates.

The WHA is a familiar name in the hockey world. The association was formed in the early ’70s as the first major pro hockey league to rival the National Hockey League. By the late ’70s, however, there were only four teams left in the league – the Alberta Oilers, Winnipeg Jets, Quebec Nordiques and the New England Whalers. They were folded into an expanded NHL. Three of those teams have since relocated. The Oilers, who became the Edmonton Oilers, are the NHL’s last link to the WHA.

The "Cougars" name is a throwback to those early WHA days.

All four new teams in the junior league will have names of WHA teams from the ’70s. The Squamish Cougars inherit the name and the emblem from what was the Chicago Cougars.