The Central Interior Hockey League (CIHL) will have a pair of new teams taking the ice this season as Smithers and Hazelton get set to join the league.
The additions were confirmed at the CIHL annual general meeting in May, and will bump the league up to seven teams, its highest total since the Prince Rupert Rampage joined the league back in 2009. The Smithers Steelheads ceased operations after the 2016-17 season. Hazelton has not had a team in the CIHL since the Wolverines folded after the 2011-12 season.
CIHL president and Rampage general manager Ron German is excited for the move, saying it strengthens the league and also makes the idea of joining more attractive for other small towns. There have been discussions with Vanderhoof about bringing back their team in the future as well; the town previously boasting the Omineca Ice in the league. Cariboo town Lac la Hache also used to have a CIHL team.
|The Prince Rupert Rampage downed the Kitimat Ice Demons 11-3 in a game at the Civic Centre last season. (Shannon Lough / The Northern View)
German says the expansion will also allow local hockey fans more variety in the number of teams visiting the Civic Centre over the course of the 16 game season.
“We’ll get a little more variety than just Terrace and Kitimat all the time,” German said.
While the developments are good news for the long term health of the league, and the state of hockey in the north, German explained that the new teams will likely come into conflict with Prince Rupert and the surrounding area while they build their new roster. CIHL teams often feature players from out of town, meaning there will be more competition for the region’s top talent this year.
The final schedule has just been finalized, so fans will soon know when the Rampage will hit the ice, and when they will get their first look at the new CIHL squads. The season will start in late September.
Aside from Prince Rupert and the expansion teams, the league consists of the Terrace River Kings, Kitimat Ice Demons, Quesnel Kangaroos and Williams Lake Stampeders.
Alex Kurial | Sports Reporter
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