With eight out of 10 teams qualifying for the playoffs in the Junior B Pacific International Junior Hockey League, the newly formed Squamish Wolf Pack have a modest dream of making the post-season this winter.
“Off of the top of my head we’re going to have five or six guys trying out from the (Squamish) Cougars, and we’ve spoken to the head coaches from local midget teams who are excited to have their kids coming out,” said coach and general manager Matt Samson, who previously coached the WHA Squamish Cougars.
With the future of the WHA in the air after two troubled years, Samson resigned in the spring and worked with Squamish to bring a PIJHL expansion team to the community. Aldergrove was also approved for a team, the Kodiaks, bringing the number of teams in the league to 10.
There are many advantages to joining the PIJHL, says Samson. The main advantage is that the league is recognized by Hockey Canada, and is affiliated with a Junior B system in the province that includes the nine-team Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League and the 16-team Kootenay International Junior Hockey League. The winner of each league goes into a round robin tournament to determine the overall top Junior B team in the province.
Being recognized by Junior B, Samson says it’s easier for players to move through to Junior A and the university system. The PIJHL is also well-established, and the regional schedule means the longest bus ride is under three hours.
By way of comparison, the WHA was spread out through the province, and players had to endure eight-hour bus rides to the Interior.
By while the WHA had it troubles, Samson also defends the league.
“We’re excited to come out and take that (Hockey Canada) label, and get rid of all the negative connotations of the WHA, although that league did a lot of positive things for a lot of kids. It was hard having games cancelled and I know it was tough on the players, but we still promoted four or possibly five kids to hockey scholarships. That says a lot about the kids, but we can obviously do a lot more with the new league.”
With the amount of support for the Cougars in Squamish, Samson is confident that the Wolf Pack will be able to regularly sell out Brennan Park Arena. Ticket prices will be the same, $8 for general admission and $6 for students and seniors, and the team is selling season passes for $160 and 10 game packs for $70.
“We always had good support in Squamish for the Cougars, but when games were cancelled and other teams showed up late to games with just nine or 10 skaters it was tough on the fans,” Samson said. “That’s not real junior hockey, and it wasn’t what the WHA was supposed to be.
“We’re hoping to be one of the top teams for attendance in the PIJHL, and with our support for the Cougars, we should be. We don’t want to take anything for granted, though, and we’re looking to put a decent product on the ice and make it fun for the fans.”
The team’s first tryout is May 20-22 in Meadow Park arena, open to all midget and post-midget players. To take part, players must contact Matt Samson at 604-418-5588, or Phil Kinnonmont at email@example.com.
In the coming weeks, Samson also hopes to launch a team website and hire a second assistant for the team.
The team will practice four times a week, and can play games any day or night of the week except for Monday.
Players must pay to play, and may have to pay some additional costs for a team bus, although Samson says he has landed an equipment sponsor and is working to find more sponsors to defray costs. “There will be team fees and other fees, but it won’t be what the WHA was charging,” said Samson.