The independent British Columbia Hockey League – which now includes five teams from Alberta – is causing concern in another Junior 'A' league.

Last weekend the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Estevan Bruins lost a second player to the British Columbia Hockey League for no return.

They haven’t been the only SJHL team affected.

  • Forward Jagjeevan Phangura had 41 points in 49 game with the Bruins in 2022-23, but returned to his home province to join the Surrey Eagles during the offseason.

    Fellow B.C. product Ben Wright, a 6-foot-4 forward with nine points through 34 games with the Bruins, and 60 games of Western Hockey League experience, departed for the Merritt Centennials last Saturday, February 10 – the BCHL’s transfer deadline, and the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s deadline for teams to submit their final rosters.

  • The Nipawin Hawks lost both their leading scorer and their third-highest-scoring defenceman in Braxton Buckberger and Ronan Buckberger. The Saskatoon brothers joined the Alberni Valley Bulldogs.

  • The Humboldt Broncos’ backup goalie, North Vancouver-native Aidan Fischer, headed for the Cowichan Valley Capitals on Vancouver Island.

BCHL teams can sign players from teams in leagues that are sanctioned by Hockey Canada, such as the SJHL, without having to send anything in return.

Some people say they’re worried, some say it’s not an issue, and some aren’t saying much at all.

Bruins head coach/general manager Jason Tatarnic, pictured on the ice while the team celebrated the 2021-22 SJHL ChampionshipBruins head coach/general manager Jason Tatarnic on the ice while the team celebrated the 2021-22 SJHL Championship

“We lost a real impact guy at the beginning and then lost a player on the day of the deadline to sign players,” said Bruins head coach/general manager Jason Tatarnic. “So it makes it tough. Just the threat of them being able to come and sign players from March 1 to March 1 is not a great feeling to have in the back of your mind.”

The Bruins called up Carter Onrait to play that night, after he’d played that afternoon with the Estevan Bears (and scored two goals).

Hockey Canada has a September 30 deadline prohibiting players who play in unsanctioned leagues after that date from playing in Hockey Canada-governed leagues for one year.

Tatarnic said he was informed on Monday that Hockey Sask said players could ask for reinstatement.

Hockey Saskatchewan General Manager Kelly McClintock said it’s up to Hockey Canada to consider any appeals.

“There’s a real distinction between a U13 hockey player and a junior hockey player… If it’s October the 12th, and he’s played one game after September 30th, there might be a pretty good chance for a junior player and probably for sure a chance on a U13 hockey player,” McClintock said. “[But] anybody who’s played junior hockey in a non-sanctioned league like the BC Hockey League after Christmas, I doubt if there’s a way they’re going to allow that player to come back.”

Hockey Canada declined an interview on the topic of players leaving for the BCHL. A spokesperson said their September 26, 2023 statement should provide answers to any questions.

The statement said that “any player who participates in a non-sanctioned league after Sept. 30 is ineligible to join, affiliate with or apply for reinstatement to any sanctioned hockey team that competes for a national championship for the remainder of the season, which includes teams in the Canadian Hockey League, Canadian Junior Hockey League and those that vie for spots at Canada’s U18 National Club Championships.”

Tatarnic said Monday’s news of the independent United States Premier Hockey League expanding with a new division for five teams in Ontario and Quebec shows that unsanctioned hockey is on the rise.


The #USPHLPremier is proud to welcome five new partners to join current members College Universel Gatineau to form an all-Canadian division for 2024-25!

Congrats to the new teams, and welcome to the USPHL!

Full Story:

— USPHL (@USPHL) February 12, 2024

Nick Sereggela, a former Bruins goalie who was their head coach and general manager at the turn of the century, said the issue will get worse for teams in sanctioned leagues if it isn’t addressed.

Sereggela said a summer move to the BCHL is likely more appealing to players than making the change late in the regular season. A full season in the more-heavily-scouted BCHL could present a much better opportunity for an NCAA Division I scholarship than just playing the end of the season.

“The risk reward is a lot different than the start of the season. Around August, that's when you'll see who's defecting and who isn't, who's coming back and who isn't.”

He said the SJHL is at risk of losing a lot of talent if it doesn’t look at doing something, such as going independent or combining with another league.

“That's hockey. It's changing. Either jump on board and be a part of the change, or you may get left behind holding an empty bag. You’ve got to be careful. But if there were answers it would be different. There’s no answers. That’s the hardest part.”

McClintock said he doesn’t “see it as a huge issue” that players have left the SJHL for the BCHL. He pointed to some of them being from British Columbia.

The BCHL’s website lists eight players on its rosters with Saskatchewan hometowns.

“That's kind of the environment we're living in now,” McClintock said. “Players have options and I think it's always incumbent on the teams in the SJHL to make sure that you know their players are happy; that they like where they are, they enjoy their teammates, they enjoy their billets, they enjoy the environment that they're getting to play in.”

McClintock pointed to the BCHL pulling players from around the world (Canadian teams in the BCHL only need five players from British Columbia on their rosters) as a reason SJHL fans shouldn't worry. He added that if the NCAA starts allowing major junior players to go on to join the college ranks, it would open up more avenues for players looking at that option.

He added that he doesn’t think it’s likely the BCHL has nearly the insurance coverage Hockey Canada does.

SJHL commissioner Kyle McIntyre said the CJHL instructed its commissioners not to comment on players leaving for the BCHL. CJHL president Andy Harkness said their only statement at this time is “no comment.”

DiscoverEstevan reached out twice to the BCHL, but did not receive a response.