The the Allan Cup Hockey West’s (ACHW) playoffs get underway, new league Commissioner Richard Gregory set the table for what is an exciting few months for the league.
“Where our league is going is to undertake a national merger with the Allan Cup Hockey East league to form a national AAA senior level league,” Gregory said.
The merger will help set the stage for a change to format of the Allan Cup. Currently, the tournament is organized by Hockey Canada in a way similar to other amateur league — with provincial champions playing each other in regional finals to claim a berth in the Allan Cup tournament.
“It results in certain teams in certain jurisdictions being granted automatic berths to the Allan Cup, which is an issue for our teams that play 18 to 24 game seasons, travel and make big commitments financially,” Gregory said.
By joining east and west, the leagues can come up with a new format that is more fair to teams committing cash and time to senior-level hockey.
Gregory also spoke about the ACHW in general — saying that, despite the contraction of the Fort Saskatchewan Chiefs — the league is in a good place.
“We are four teams strong now, as is the east team league, and we are actively pursuing other teams,” he said. “In the last few months, we have had interest from three different teams in our region including Airdrie and Invermere.
“It is exciting for our league to have other communities interested. A lot of these communities are communities that don’t have WHL teams or Junior A teams, so there is an appetite for a high level of hockey.”
Gregory said Lacombe is an example of an ideal situation for the league, given that the ACHW is the highest level of hockey in the city. He also used Innisfail as example of a success story for the league.
There is several markets throughout Alberta that are similar to these situations.
“Fort Saskatchewan was a team we lost last year, but I think there is a market for Fort Saskatchewan and an availability of players in the Edmonton area that would like to compete for the Allan Cup,” he said.
The Generals are opening up their ACHW first-found, five-game series against the Stony Plain — which shows some of the high-end talent of the league according to Gregory.
”If people haven’t been out to see the Generals this year, they have a number of good players including their goaltender who was a draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche,” he said. “Brennen Evans is their captain and he was quite a horse in the AHL for a long time and they have good exciting forwards to watch.
“Stony Plain has good players also including their goaltender as well — he was a draft pick of Carolina.”
That series will continue next weekend along with a closely-contested series between the Rosetown Red Wings and the Innisfail Eagles.
These series are the beginning of a long-haul towards the Allan Cup in Lacombe April 8th to 13th.
“Lacombe gets an automatic bid since the tournament will be in Lacombe,” Gregory said. “Our Alberta provincial champion will be competing against the pacific representative in the tournament and Rosetown will compete against Manitoba — so it is possible we will have two or three teams in the Allan Cup.
“That is really exciting to showcase our talent and attract some corporate sponsorships and awareness for our league.”
He added, “I encourage people to come out and check it out — especially in Lacombe where we have a couple months of high-level hockey to watch.”