The plight of a junior hockey franchise can be summed up, mostly, with one word: change. Change is a common occurrence in junior hockey, perhaps more so than any other level of the game. From the day a player becomes eligible to play in the league, until the last day of eligibility, a small window of just five years exists in which a player can make his mark in the league.
Building a franchise that can contend for a Memorial Cup or even a league championship is a daunting task — one that takes years of planning and vision, as well as just the right amount of luck and good fortune. It’s not uncommon for a dominant team to become a cellar dweller seemingly overnight, as players graduate to the pro ranks, move on to the CIS level, or simply become too old to play in the league.
Many players go on to never play the game at a competitive level again, while a select few will become stars in the NHL. Our goal will be to provide coverage of every team in all three of the leagues that make up the CHL, providing insight and perspective on as many players as possible – regardless of their future in the sport.
In the modern era of the Memorial Cup tournament (since 1983), there have been repeat champions just three times – the Medicine Hat Tigers (1987, 1988), the Kamloops Blazers (1994, 1995) and the Windsor Spitfires (2009, 2010). Those Kamloops Blazers were perhaps the closest thing to a junior hockey dynasty that you will ever see, as they won the Cup in 1992 as well, giving them three wins in four years.
That version of the Blazers featured and embarrassment of riches as far as talent, featuring future NHLers Darryl Sydor, Scott Niedermayer, Darcy Tucker, Tyson Nash, Corey Hirsch, Nolan Baumgartner, Hnat Domenichelli, Shane Doan, Jarome Iginla, Brad Lukowich, Jason Strudwick, Steve Passmore and Cam Severson. But alas, as is common in junior hockey, all good things must come to an end.
Head coach Don Hay departed the Blazers after their third Memorial Cup for an assistant coaching job in the NHL. The Blazers had one more successful year in 1995-96 on the backs mostly of Iginla and Domenicheli, before posting a sub-.500 record in 1996-97, effectively bringing the dynasty to an end.
More common throughout the CHL are teams that have one or two peak seasons of success, before having to restock the cupboards and start completely over from scratch. Unlike the NHL where players can be acquired and kept, junior teams have to consistently find ways to uncover and attract talent to remain competitive. A better example of this would be the 2014 Cup-winning Edmonton Oil Kings. After a fantastic two-year stretch that saw the Oil Kings fall just short of winning the Memorial Cup once (2012) and the WHL Championship once (2013), the Oil Kings put it all together in 2014, winning 50 games and bringing the Memorial Cup to Edmonton for the first time since 1966.
But this past season, the Oil Kings sported a 34-31-7 record, bowing out in the first round of the WHL playoffs after much of their talent had moved on to other levels.
For the worst teams, it seems that just one strong draft is all it will take to get to the heights discussed above – which, often, is the case. But the ability to consistently compete, in spite of player graduations, is something that is extremely difficult at the junior level. Even the best-ran, most consistent franchises have down years, which is part of what makes junior hockey so exciting. In what other level or sport can you see a team from a major city (Vancouver) take on a team representing a small town (Moose Jaw), as was the case in 2005-06?
Junior hockey is exciting, it’s competitive, and it gives us an opportunity to provide coverage of some of the future stars of our sport and their teams. We look forward to providing compelling coverage all season long.