League History


League History 
If you want to make something happen, you need a good group of people to commit. This is exactly what happened on a hot summer day in Castlegar in 1967, when a group of men met in a hot and steamy room. It was the start of the West Kootenay Junior Hockey League. Castlegar, Trail, Rossland, Grand Forks and Nelson were the first teams. The first season (1968-69) saw the Trail Jr. Smoke Eaters win the league, and advance to the BC Championship.

Castlegar and Grand Forks folded after one year. Grand Forks came back after a one-year absence, and Castlegar came back after seven years.

For the 1971-72 season, Spokane joined the league as the Valley Kings giving it international representation. That’s when the league became known as the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL). At that point, Trail had won three of the four championships, with one going to Nelson in the 1968-69 season.

In the 1970s, the Cranbrook Colts dominated, winning four straight championships and two straight B.C. championships. Four years later Creston joined in 1976, and the Columbia Valley Rockies entered in 1978, and Beaver Valley in 1981. 

The Colts won six straight KIJHL championships from the 1981-82 season to the 1986-87 season. They also won five B.C. championships during that run. The Rockies ended the Colts’ run, starting their own with three straight league championships and capturing the B.C. championship in 1988-89. They won the Keystone Cup Championship (Western Canadian Junior B Championship) in 1988-89 and as the hosts in 1989-90.

When the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League (RMJHL) was formed in 1991, the league lost several teams (including Creston) to the Junior A league. In 1993, the North Okanagan Kings joined, followed by Sicamous in 1994, forming a well-rounded league with Revelstoke and Golden providing great rivalries.

In 1996 the two distinct divisions were named after two great founders. The south division was named after Neil Murdoch, the personification of the name Smoke Eater, while the north division was named after Eddie Mountain, the personification of a humanitarian. That year, the league welcomed Osoyoos, as the Rebels, then in 1997 they were renamed the Osoyoos Heat under new ownership. The Castlegar Rebels returned in 1998 and the Nelson Leafs came back in 1999, while that same year Summerland Minor Hockey had a juvenile team called the Warriors. This was an interim measure to replace the Rossland Warriors, who dropped out just before the season started.

The 2000/2001 season saw the return of hockey to Creston, under the name of the Creston Valley Thunder Cats.

The 2001/2002 season added two more members with the return of the Kimberley Dynamiters and a new team in Summerland – the Sting. The North Okanagan Kings became the Enderby Ice Kings and the Osoyoos Heat became the Storm. 

In 2002/2003 the North Okanagan Kings re-located to Princeton, becoming the Posse.

The 2004/05 season had the Fernie Ghostriders return after playing in the KIJHL from 1973-1980 and then moving on to Junior A. Fernie became the fifth team in the Eddie Mountain Division.

The Golden team changed its name from the Rockets to the Xtreme for the 2005/06 season.

The 2006/07 season saw the league accept a franchise move from Osoyoos to Kamloops. The Kamloops Storm remain in the Okanagan/Shuswap Division. 

The Golden team changed name to the Jets after the franchise was purchased by a group headed by Bobby Hull.

The Chase Chiefs were welcomed for the 2007/08 season. They join the other five teams in the Okanagan/Shuswap Division. 

The Golden franchise reverts back to a community-owned society who changed the team moniker back from Jets to Rockets.

In the 2008/09 season, the league re-aligned into two conferences, with the Okanagan Conference remaining a six-team entity, while the Kootenay Conference had 10 teams split into the Neil Murdoch and Eddie Mountain Divisions.

The 2009/10 season has the Okanagan Conference expanding to seven teams with the addition of the North Okanagan Knights, operating out of Armstrong. The Summerland Sting also re-located to Penticton, B.C.

Osoyoos was welcomed back into the league in 2010/11 when the Coyotes joined the Okanagan Conference and went on to become league champions and represent the KIJHL at the Cyclone Taylor Cup. The Chiefs re-located from Chase to Kelowna that year.

The KIJHL expanded to twenty teams for the 2011/12 season, adding the Summerland Steam and Chase Heat re-joined as the fifth team in each Okanagan Division.

In 2013, the Penticton Laker franchise was moved to 100 Mile House. The Wranglers began play in the Doug Birks Division for the 2013-14 season, while the Knights moved into the Okanagan Division.

Kootenay Conference:
Eddie Mountain Division:
    Columbia Valley Rockies
    Creston Valley Thundercats
    Fernie Ghostriders
    Golden Rockets
         Kimberley Dynamiters
Neil Murdoch Division:
    Beaver Valley Nitehawks
    Castlegar Rebels
    Grand Forks Border Bruins
    Nelson Leafs
    Spokane Braves
Okanagan ShuswapConference:
Doug Birks Division
    100 Mile House Wranglers
Chase Heat
Kamloops Storm
        Revelstoke Grizzlies

    Sicamous Eagles

Okanagan Division
Kelowna Chiefs
North Okanagan Knights
Princeton Posse
Osoyoos Coyotes
Summerland Steam

By Tom Stanton, Rossland Warriors, 1971-75.

The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) has been operating for more than 50 years and continues to grow in strength each season.

The history of the league (beginning with the formation of the West Kootenay Junior Hockey League in the late ‘60s) is a colourful, exciting account of the impressive, and continual development of hockey talents onto higher levels of competition. The listing of former KIJHL players and officials advancing to junior A, major junior, collegiate, semi-pro and the NHL is outstanding.

One of the earliest achievements came just a few short seasons after its inception. It was the 1970-71 season, and the league had teams from Trail, Rossland, Grand Forks and Nelson. At the time, the Canada Winter Games were also in its infancy, and the second Winter Games were slated in February 1971 in Saskatoon. (Yes, they had to build a ski hill, Blackstrap).

It was decided that the hockey tournament for the Games would involve competition at the junior B level. This meant that every province would send a representative club to compete. In B.C., following some hard work by WKJHL president Burt Decaire and his board, the playdowns for the provincial rep would take place in Trail and Rossland, featuring teams from the Lower Mainland, the North Region, the East Kootenay and West Kootenay.

The tourney opened Dec. 26, 1970 with the West Kootenay doubling the North 12-6. The next day, the West rolled by the East Kootenay, 7-1, and closed out the round-robin Dec. 29th by downing the Lower Mainland 5-3.

After preliminary play, the title was to be decided with a best-of-three playdown between the host West Kootenay and Lower Mainland.

After an opening 5-4 victory in Rossland Dec.30th before a packed house, the scene shifted to Trail’s Cominco Arena on New Year’s Day, 1971, where before thousands of fans, the local stars pulled out a 3-2 overtime win to capture the championship.

The victory put the WKJHL/KIJHL into the 1971 Canada Winter Games in Saskatoon, where they eventually struck for a bronze medal. Members of the West Kootenay AllStars included:

1. Sandy Santori (Trail) 2. Steven Sander (Trail) 3. Brian Kuffner (Trail) 4. Bob Hook (Rossland) 5. Martin Sander (Trail) 6. Norman Larmour (Trail) 7. Terry McDougall (Trail) 8. David Palmer (Trail) 9. John Stanton (Rossland) 10. Jim Stuart (Rossland) 11. Rick Rosse (Rossland) 12. David Nicol (Trail) 13. Billy Vulcano (Trail) 14. Gene Legare (Rossland) 15. Ross Eccles (Rossland) 16. Len Ircandia (Trail) 17. Walt Sofonoff (Grand Forks) 18. Alec Kootnikoff (Grand Forks) 19. Tom Castle (Rossland) 20. Glenn Caputo (Trail) Coach: Roy Casler Manager: Andy Kuffner

Just one of the opening chapters, of a very impressive KIJHL history book. With more chapters to be written.