The British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) is the Wild West for college hockey recruiting. With no local teams, colleges from all over the country recruit the league and a team like Michigan Tech has a chance at some of their best players based on relationships and previous success. When we get into talking about all the different players, you'll notice the diversity of teams where BCHL players played and notice how many more places these guys end up compared to last week's feature, the Upper Midwest Elite League. The incoming freshmen for this season alone now play for over 40 universities, including representatives of every conference and Arizona State. In fact, all but four teams (Boston College, Mercyhurst, Miami and Niagara) have a BCHL alum on their roster this season, and BC has a recruit committed for next season.
The dynamics of the league have also changed over the last decade with an increase of import players from America after former St. Cloud State Assistant Coach Fred Harbinson became the head coach of the Penticton Vees. Their 2011-12 team dominated opponents winning 54 of 60 regular season games, as well as winning the league tournament and the Canadian Jr. A Title, the Royal Bank Cup. That has spurred more imports, especially from players headed to college that can't quite get the playing time they were hoping for from a USHL team. The Huskies themselves have had a handful of current players head to British Columbia to develop before going to Houghton including Devon Kero, Jake Jackson, Reid Sturos and Evan Anderson.
The league itself also features a former Husky at the top as league commissioner. John Grisdale played for Michigan Tech from 1967 through 1971 before heading to the NHL. Eventually he ended up in his current role as commissioner in 2012.
Talent throughout College Hockey
Some very special players have honed their skills in the BCHL over the years including current NHL players, former NCAA All-Americans, Hobey Baker Award Finalists and even multiple Hobey Baker Award Winners.
Current NHL Players:
- Duncan Keith (Chicago Blackhawks, A)
- Travis Zajac (New Jersey Devils, A)
- Tyler Bozak (Toronto Maple Leafs, A)
- Kyle Turris (Ottawa Senators)
- Riley Nash (Boston Bruins)
- Justin Schultz (Pittsburgh Penguins)
- Patrick Wiercioch (Colorado Avalanche)
- Troy Stecher (Vancouver Canucks)
- Mike Reilly (Minnesota Wild)
- Beau Bennett (New Jersey Devils)
- Andrew Hammond (Ottawa Senators)
- Danton Heinen (Boston Bruins)
- Derek Grant (Buffalo Sabres)
- Dominic Moore (Boston Bruins)
- Jason Garrison (Tampa Bay Lightning)
- Josh Manson (Anaheim Ducks)
- Zac Dalpe (Minnesota Wild)
- Brandon Tanev (Winnipeg Jets)
- Curtis McKenzie (Dallas Stars)
- Danny DeKeyser (Detroit Red Wings)
Former American Hockey Coaches Association NCAA All-Americans since 2005 (First and Second Team):
- Jeff Tambellini (Michigan-2005)
- Gabe Gauthier (Denver-2005)
- Brett Skinner (Denver-2005)
- Mike Ouellette (Dartmouth-2006)
- Michel Leveille (Maine-2006/2007)
- Nathan Oystrick (Northern Michigan-2007)
- Mike Santorelli (Northern Michigan-2007)
- Mike Moore (Princeton-2008)
- Tyler Eckford (Alaska-2008)
- Maury Edwards (UMass Lowell-2009)
- Chay Genoway (North Dakota-2009/2011)
- Brendon Nash (Cornell-2010)
- Dan DeKeyser (Western Michigan-2012/2013)
- Mat Bodie (Union-2012/2014)
- Mike Collins (Merrimack-2013)
- Joey LaLeggia (Denver-2014)
Hobey Baker Award Finalists since 2005 (* - also All-Americans):
- Jordan Sigalet (Bowling Green-2005)
- David Jones (Dartmouth-2007*)
- Brad Thiessen (Northeastern-2009*)
- Marc Cheverie (Denver-2010*)
- Justin Schultz (Wisconsin-2011*/2012*)
- Austin Smith (Colgate-2012*)
- Carson Chubak (Niagara-2013)
- Joel Rumpel (Wisconsin-2014)
- Mike Reilly (Minnesota-2014*/2015*)
- Joey LaLeggia (Denver-2015*)
- Matt Grabowsky (RIT-2015)
- Alex Petan (Michigan Tech-2015)
One former BCHL player truly excelled in the college ranks: former North Dakota forward Ryan Duncan. Duncan won the Hobey Baker Award as a sophomore in 2007 when he posted a line of 31-26-57 in 43 games in the middle of three straight trips to the Frozen Four with the Sioux. He scored 172 points including 85 goals during his four years of college before having a pretty successful career in Europe for EC Salzburg.
If you go back in time a little further, Duncan is one of four players to win the Hobey Baker Award that has BCHL experience along with Jason Krog (New Hampshire, 1999), Brendan Morrison (Michigan, 1997) and Paul Kariya (Maine, 1993). That's quite the impressive list especially when you consider the NHL career of those three players, with a combined stat line of over 2000 games, 600 goals and 1600 points.
Current College Players
The BCHL has really been the premiere league for Candians who want to choose college over Major Juniors, because it allows them to continue to develop and maintains their NCAA eligibility. The league has existed in one form or another since 1961. Since the creation of the Manitoba Centennial Trophy (1971) and its successor the Royal Bank Cup (1996), awarded to the best Junior "A" hockey team in Canada, the BCHL has more titles than any other league with 14, including 5 of the last 11. According to their own website, they send between 80 and 100 players to the NCAA each year. According Heisenberg's 2015 and 2016 sites, those numbers are low with over 110 players committed each year.
With things so much more spread out in the BCHL compared to the UMEL, its harder to focus in and see just how important BCHL players might be to certain teams. College hockey lost most of the BCHL's best prospects last year with seven of the top ten scorers graduating (* - Graduated):
- Travis St. Denis (Quinnipiac 22-27-49)*
- Joey Benik (St. Cloud State 23-25-48)*
- Max French (Bentley 23-24-47)
- Andrew Galdiuk (Bentley 17-28-45)*
- David Morley (St. Cloud State 14-23-37)*
- Josh Mitchell (RIT 6-30-36)*
- Alex Kerfoot (Harvard 4-30-34)
- Alex Petan (Michigan Tech 14-23-37)*
- Myles Powell (RIT 15-17-32)
- Tyler Morley (Alaska 18-12-30)*
While it is in the distant past, at least two members of the 1975 national championship team, George Lyle and Ed Dempsey, were recruited out of the BCHL. Including Dempsey, three of the Huskies' top six defensemen came from the league, including the all-time leading scorer Kip Noble and former NHLer Tim Watters. Two forwards from the 80s, Kelly Hurd and Shawn Harrsion, also hailed from British Columbia. More recently, Tyler Shelast, Goeff Kinrade, Michael-Lee Teslak, Jamie Phillips and Alex Petan were just a few of the players recruited out of the BCHL under Jamie Russell and Mel Pearson.
Coach Pearson has continued to recruit the league even beyond the American imports. The current team has nine Canadians with BCHL experience on the roster including veterans Shane Hanna, Brent Baltus, Alex Gillies, Mason Blacklock and Dane Birks. Most are expected to play big roles on the team this year, and sophomore Jake Lucchini is expected to build on his very success for rookie campaign. Rookies Gavin Gould, Chris Gerrie and Angus Redmond also hail from the league and have shown promise when given the chance, especially Redmond, who was spectacular in his first two college starts versus rival Northern Michigan.
On the other side of the ledger, those of you who followed the team for the last 15 years will recognize the names Casey Pierro-Zabotel and Jujhar Khaira. Both committed to Michigan Tech but played a combined 37 games for the Huskies. Both were hyped for their skill and NHL draft status as third round picks. Pierro-Zabotel absolutely crushed the league in 51 goals and 116 points in 2006-07, finishing third in scoring behind two current NHL players, Tyler Bozak and Kyle Turris. Khaira on the other hand, was top-ten in points behind the likes of Alex Petan, Mike Reilly and Mario Lucia. He could have been a part of the Huskies through last season, but he left after one season for an NHL contract. Who knows how much better the Huskies could have been over the last three seasons if Khaira had stuck around.
Michigan Tech has six future recruits currently playing the BCHL including two Americans, Cliff Watson's younger brothers Cooper and Carver. Mitch Meek is the Huskies' most recent recruit and has looked good since committing. There are also three forwards: Mitch Newsome, Jagger Williamson and Marcus Mitchell. All of these guys have had their ups and downs in their Junior careers but could be great additions to Michigan Tech over the next two seasons. Newsome and Carver Watson were off to great starts this season before getting injured, while Mitchell was last week's THG Recruit of the Week based on his spectacular October. Jagger Williamson is off to a slow start, but he's flashed his skill with some crazy goals this season.
The BCHL is by far the best Junior "A" League in Canada and Michigan Tech will definitely continue to recruit there, but their success has been limited since former assistant Billy Muckalt left for a head coaching job in the USHL. Mitchell and Meek are the only two players to commit from the league since January 2015, six months before Muckalt left. I'm sure the staff has relationships in the league and hopefully over the next year, they'll get some of the high-powered scorers fans have become accustomed to seeing out of the league, and not just Americans that play their last year of junior hockey before heading to Houghton. Join us next week in our Recruiting Grounds series, when we take a look at the NAHL, America's "other" Junior hockey league.
Recruit of the Fortnight
Over the last two weeks we had a couple of recruits do well. Carver Watson returned from injury with Chilliwack (BCHL) over the weekend and scored four points in four games, but I'll stick with who I would have picked last week: Tristan Rostagno. Rostagno plays defense for the Minnesota Wilderness (NAHL) and has averaged a point per game over his last 6, including two multi-point games. The first was a three-assist performance against Minot in a loss and a goal and an assist in a win over Bismarck on back-to-back nights.
Cover image of Marcus Mitchell courtesy of Garrett James Photography