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How old is the KIJHL, anyway?

Updated: Feb 25

The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League was founded on Sunday, July 8, 1962 at the Nelson Civic Centre at precisely 1:50 p.m.

Yet for many years the league’s own website has contained a fractured version of its history, claiming it was born in Castlegar in the summer of 1967 but did not start play until 1968. (This appears to have been based on something past president Burt Decaire wrote around 1973, although he put the meeting date as July 10, 1969.)

Meanwhile, Wikipedia states the league was founded in 1966, but then immediately contradicts itself by adding: “Five teams joined the league in its first year and started play in the 1969-70 season.”

Program from the first KIJHL season. (Courtesy Bill McDonnell)

This confusion is not entirely surprising given the league’s early fits and starts and name changes. The fledgling league was initially a mix of junior and collegiate clubs, namely the Trail Smoke Eaters, Cranbrook Canucks, Notre Dame Knights of Nelson and Gonzaga Bulldogs of Spokane.

These teams played exhibition games against each other in 1961-62 (as well as Montana State University and UBC) but there was no formal league. That changed at the 1962 meeting in Nelson, alluded to above.

“For months hockey heads in the Kootenays and Spokane have labored over the birth of a junior league,” the Nelson Daily News reported, “and the tabled motion to form a league brought a long drought of junior hockey league’s absence to an end.”

Rossland’s Maury Wright was league’s the first president, even though Rossland didn’t end up icing a team that year, while Nelson’s Leo Atwell was vice-president.

They also decided Notre Dame and Gonzaga wouldn’t be forced to use junior-age players, “as many of the best players may be over the age limit but their removal would destroy a possible strong club.” (This soon became a point of contention.)

The first game took place at the Spokane Coliseum on Oct. 20, 1962. Trail took 61 shots on goal and beat Gonzaga 9-0. Allan Bunn scored the first goal in league history at 19:19 of the first.

Also scoring a goal for Trail in that game was Mike Laughton, who went on to become the first Nelson-born player in the NHL. He is probably the first KIJHL alumnus to make the NHL too, although I haven’t looked into it deeply.

(Courtesy Bill McDonnell)

The original KIJHL lasted two seasons and then suspended when Cranbrook and Gonzaga pulled out. However, Notre Dame, Gonzaga, and Trail still played an abbreviated exhibition schedule against each other as well as the University of Alberta and University of Victoria in 1964-65.

The league re-emerged in 1965, minus Gonzaga, and was renamed the West Kootenay Junior Hockey League. It had the Nelson Maple Leafs, Trail Smoke Eaters and Rossland Warriors. In 1966-67 the league added the Selkirk College Pioneers (Castlegar) and Fernie Rangers.

The founding of the BCJHL (now BCHL) in 1967 reportedly put the WKJHL out of business, but I’m at a loss to understand why, as there was no overlap in cities. A contemporary news story noted “the WKJHL may continue operating as a Junior B league” — indicating they were until then considered Junior A — but there was no league in 1967-68 or 1968-69, despite suggestions to the contrary on the KIJHL website.

The WKJHL returned in 1969-70 with the Trail Smoke Eaters, Rossland Warriors, Nelson Plaza Oilers, Castlegar Apollos, and Grand Forks Border Bruins. The name reverted to the KIJHL in 1972-73 when the Spokane Rockets joined.

KIJHL programs from the 1980s. (Courtesy John D’Arcangelo)

Nelson Maple Leafs programs from 1989-90 and 1993-94. (Greg Nesteroff collection)

Even if we don’t count the original KIJHL as the direct ancestor of the current one — and there is no reason not to — the league’s website incorrectly states the first season was 1968-69 when the league was actually inactive. It also says Castlegar and Grand Forks folded after one year. In fact, Castlegar played a good chunk of its second season before folding, while Grand Forks played three seasons before taking 1972-73 off, yet somehow was still granted a playoff seed!

Making things all the more confusing, in 2016, the KIJHL marked its 50th anniversary, somehow picking 1966-67 as its its first season, which makes no sense at all.

To recap: the KIJHL was born in 1962, but spent three full seasons on hiatus, so it’s debatable whether the league’s age as of 2023 is 58 or 61. But this is the sequence:

1962-64: Kootenay International Junior Hockey League

1964-65: No league

1965-67: West Kootenay Junior Hockey League

1967-69: No league

1969-72: West Kootenay Junior Hockey League

1972-present: Kootenay International Junior Hockey League

A few other notes:

• The league was apparently considered Junior A from 1962-64 and 1965-67. It was Junior B from 1969 to 2023. As of this season it has been reclassified as Junior A.

• The 2020-21 regular season was mostly a write-off due to COVID. Teams played between two and four games each before the league called it quits.

• The KIJHL kept the “I” in its name from 2020 to 2023 despite the fact Spokane, the only American-based team in the league, dropped out due to COVID travel restrictions. (Spokane is back in the league this year.)

• While more teams are still from the Kootenays than any other region (between seven and nine depending on whether you count Golden and Revelstoke), the 20-team league also has four Okanagan-based teams, two Thompson-based teams, and one each from the Boundary, Shuswap, Similkameen, and Cariboo.

• Vintage KIJHL memorabilia is hard to come by. I’m indebted to Nelson’s Bill McDonnell (who has previously looked into the KIJHL’s early years) for the incredibly rare program seen above from the league’s inaugural season.

In 2007, the Station Museum in Castlegar hosted an exhibit on local sports history and put out a call for old uniforms and game equipment. While they received lots of interesting items, the holy grail would have been a sweater from the ill-fated Castlegar Apollos of 1969-70. But one didn’t show up and to my knowledge, still hasn’t. I don’t even know what it looked like.

• I found another mistake on the league website: it lists Wayne Quiring as holding the all-time single-season assist mark of 94, established with the Grand Forks Border Bruins in 1979-80. Indeed, that was once the record. But in 1985-86, Ken Hoodikoff of the Castlegar Rebels set the new (and near as I can tell current) record of 98, many of them setting up linemate Kelly Hurd, who scored 75 goals. Hoodikoff is now a European scout for the Philadephia Flyers. He is also my first cousin.

— With thanks to John D’Arcangelo

Castlegar Rebels program of 1995-96 and KIJHL league program of 2004-05.

Updated on Jan. 7, 2024 to add the bits about Burt Decaire and Ken Hoodikoff’s assist record. Updated on Feb. 25, 2024 to add the photo of the Cranbrook and Kimberley programs.

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2 commentaires

Ron Verzuh
Ron Verzuh
24 oct. 2023

Once again, Greg, you have resurrected some wonderful local history for us. Thank you. Hockey fever was high in the Kootenays in those years, especially when the Smoke Eaters brought home the world amateur cup for a second time in 1961.


Recognize a couple players names on the Nelson team, Hugh Hooker and Ernie Moisey, remember them from school days.

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