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HomeCranbrook NewsCranbrook Bucks: Road to the BCHL (Pt.1)

Cranbrook Bucks: Road to the BCHL (Pt.1)

The Cranbrook Bucks are the newest franchise in the BCHL and are set to begin play in September 2020, and is publishing a three-part series that is taking a deeper look into the league and the team as they near closer to their inaugural game.

Part 1 of “Cranbrook Bucks: Road to the BCHL” will specifically look at the Junior A hockey league and some of the key differences from similar leagues in North America, while Part 2 and Part 3 will look further at the Cranbrook Bucks’ hockey operations and fan experience.


While the City of Cranbrook said farewell to the Kootenay Ice and the WHL in 2019, the community is now opening its arms to the Cranbrook Bucks and the BCHL.

From first glance, it may appear that both leagues follow a similar structure, but there are some key differences. Ultimately, the pursuit of education and development is the BCHL’s focus as the end-goal for the majority of players is to acquire a scholarship and play Division 1 hockey in the NCAA. This is one of the main factors that shapes and guides a player’s path and decision to either join the BCHL or WHL.

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One single game in the WHL and a player will forever lose their status to play in the NCAA as the National Collegiate Athletic Association views all three leagues in the CHL (WHL, OHL, QMJHL) as professional, thus voiding a player’s right join the college ranks south of the border. The BCHL doesn’t just focus on the NCAA however, as players are still fully free to play at Canadian universities through U Sports or Canada’s other collegiate associations.

Nathan Lieuwen, President and Majority Owner of the Cranbrook Bucks told that the BCHL is an amazing option for prospective players because it doesn’t take any options off the table, whether the player’s goal is to play in the NCAA, reach the NHL, or get a post-secondary education.

“The BCHL is widely regarded as the best Junior A league out there and on top of that they do some really creative things with the College Showcase and different events like that where they can bring out all of the NCAA scouts and they can take a look at players and talk to coaches and talk to kids and I think a lot of teams utilize that in the NCAA.”

Last season 169 players in the BCHL committed to colleges, with 151 of them signing commitments to play the highest level of hockey in the NCAA at Division 1.

Lieuwen said the availability and option to play high-level hockey, while getting an education is a great choice for players, setting them up for the future and their life after hockey, even if they one day play in the NHL.

At the 2019 NHL Draft, eight BCHL players were selected including high-profile prospect Alex Newhook, who went 16th overall in the first round to the Colorado Avalanche. Lieuwen said the list of BCHL alumni in the NHL is long as 35 former BCHL players were in the NHL to start the 2019/2020 season.

“I don’t think that that can be denied that these BCHL kids are going to the NHL. Some of them that are good enough are making it all the way.”

A prime example of a BCHL success story is Justin Schultz, a former member of the Westside Warriors that players alongside Lieuwen in 2007/2008.

“Justin’s a very good friend of mine,” Lieuwen told “Incredible player, obviously went that route and he went to Wisconsin and had a great career and obviously has won some Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh and has made himself a staple in the NHL and not only that but he also now has an education that he could use when his career eventually does end.”

Lieuwen believes the Cranbrook Bucks and the BCHL are a perfect fit for up-and-coming hockey players whether they have NHL talent or not, as the league will equip them with the ability to further both of their future careers, whether that is through hockey or corporately.

“Players that do not have their NCAA eligibility have a really difficult decision to make when they finish their junior careers because they have to decide whether they play pro and lose their education or go to school and so they really have to choose one side or the other, they can’t do both,” said Lieuwen. “It’s affected a lot of people that I know that have gone on to play pro hockey and may have only played for four, five, six years and then they have to kind of find their own way.”

Lieuwen said the Cranbrook Bucks will have a high-quality product on the ice, but that through the BCHL they also hope to develop great young men as they take the next step after Junior A.

Next: Cranbrook Bucks: Road to the BCHL (Part 2) – a look into hockey operations

Next: Cranbrook Bucks: Road to the BCHL (Part 3) – a look into fan experience

The Cranbrook Bucks office and store at Western Financial Place. (Bradley Jones, staff)
The Cranbrook Bucks office and store at Western Financial Place. (Bradley Jones, staff)

More: BCHL Parent/Athlete Handbook

More: Getting Started in the BCHL

More: BCHL Graduates

Previous: Nathan Lieuwen Leading Family-Focused Cranbrook Bucks Franchise (October 16, 2019)

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