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Okotoks Oilers outline decision to join BCHL

"It just opens a lot more doors," said Oilers head coach and GM Tyler Deis.
Okotoks Oilers forward Hayden Fechner rushes up the ice during the team’s BCHL home debut on Feb. 9 versus the Spruce Grove Saints. (Remy Greer/Western Wheel File Photo)

Growth, opportunity and the chance to finish a season.

Following a dramatic set of circumstances which saw five Alberta-based teams join the BCHL, the Okotoks Oilers are outlining what led to this unprecedented move.

“The fact that we’re in this situation now is the result of a choice we were forced to make,” said Tyler King, Oilers assistant general manager, business operations. “Our choice was keep our players sitting on the sideline unaware of when they would get a full schedule back or even if that would ever be offered to them. Or take a bit of a risk, dive into the deep end a little bit and make a change that we think, in the long run, is going to mean much better results for this organization, for this community, for the players.”

After the BCHL announced in a press release it had agreed to terms with five Alberta teams to join the league for the 2024-25 season, the AJHL responded with game cancellations, allowing only games between the five teams in question to go ahead.

Amid that uncertainty, the teams were given a chance to finish the season in the BCHL, playing exclusively against one another over a 20-game schedule.

Prior to becoming members of the league, the Oilers, Spruce Grove Saints, Sherwood Park Crusaders, Blackfalds Bulldogs and Brooks Bandits had agreed to terms on a framework of what joining the BCHL would look like.

King said discussions with the BCHL were mostly confidential and there was a lot the team couldn’t say, adding the Oilers didn’t initially know what other teams were involved.

“It’s quicker than any of us wanted it to happen,” he said. “But when we get the opportunity to sit down with people and explain the choice we were forced into, it’s very hard for people to tell us we made the wrong one.”

Oilers head coach and GM Tyler Deis said the move opens up growth opportunities across the board. 

“It just opens a lot more doors,” he said. “Recruiting, sponsorship, everything, it just opens it for growth, the league, our team. With everything changing we wanted to make sure our program, on the ice and off the ice, is still growing and not being handcuffed.

“At the end of the day, this program made a decision. We either don’t do it and fall to the wayside or we do it and now we’ve got to work harder.”

The BCHL, which has an established record for moving players to the NCAA Division 1 level, left Hockey Canada ahead of the 2023-24 season and is an independent league.

Deis referenced a couple of players the Oilers lost in the offseason to the BCHL, including two roster players and a high-end first-year prospect, as something that the changing landscape brought about.

“It’s either do you want our program to have a legit chance of getting these kids or you’re not?” Deis said. “It’s just a different type of hockey and you’re going to be on that second tier of it.”

From a recruiting perspective, Deis said the Oilers don’t plan to veer far away from their philosophy of a southern Alberta focused roster.

“We don’t want to get away from that,” he said. “And what this will do is help us get the top Alberta kids back here and we’re not losing them to other places.

“But we’re also going to have to adapt to the situation.”

Off the ice, there’s business advantages to being in a league that puts an onus on weekend scheduling which mirrors what junior players will see at the collegiate level, King noted.

With over 80 per cent of games on weekends, that helps from a ticket selling perspective as well as player management and player development, he added.

“We know that every game is going to be exceptionally competitive,” King said. “We know all the teams that are coming from the Alberta side and all of the teams that they’re joining all hold themselves to the very highest standards.

“And, importantly, the league holds those teams to those very high standards just as much.”

The divisional and schedule alignment is expected to be released in the coming months.

King said the league has communicated it will mitigate the costs associated with travel and it will be a division-heavy schedule in 2024-25.

“That isn’t to say we aren’t still going to get a great variety of opponent,” he said. “A lot of those teams are going to come out here and show our fans something different and what can come from the other side of the mountains.

"There will be some trips in there, but to be honest, Salmon Arm is closer to us than some of our North Division opponents in the AJHL were. A lot of it is very comparable and when you look at what the BCHL does to help minimize costs for teams, I actually think our costs next year are going to be very comparable to what we had in the AJHL.”

King said the transition to a new league has been as smooth as possible due to the BCHL’s approachable and consistent communication.

“Not only do they see us as a franchise that can help the profile of their league, but the impression we’re getting from them is that they see the benefits they can bring to us and the things they can make easier for us and allow us to grow into the potential that everyone has seen for junior hockey in Okotoks for nearly 20 years,” he added.

“It’s honestly been a treat, as hectic and as much of a whirlwind as it has been, when you have that layer of support from a league office, it makes an enormous difference.”

Remy Greer

About the Author: Remy Greer

Remy Greer is the assistant editor and sports reporter for and the Western Wheel newspaper. For story tips contact [email protected]
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