Cold Lake is now home to Junior A hockey – but not the AJHL.
The Cold Lake Wings of the upstart league Western Provinces Hockey Association (WPHA) will take to the ice at the Energy Centre for the first time this October. The Wings will be one of seven teams in the expansion Canadian league, with an eighth team likely to be confirmed later this summer.
“Cold Lake is a natural I think for Junior A hockey,” said WPHA coordinator, Derek Prue. “I know the arena was originally built with that in mind – fantastic facility, obviously. The city is a good size for Junior A.”
Mayor Craig Copeland is excited about the opportunity to bring high-level hockey to Cold Lake.
“We’ve always been supportive of Junior A coming to Cold Lake. We think it’s going to complement Cold Lake hockey very well,” said Copeland.
On Tuesday, the team hired former NHL first round pick Johnathan Aitken as Head Coach and General Manager. He will recruit players to play for the team in the “pay to play” league, which models itself as a hockey academy that develops players for collegiate hockey.
The league is not associated with Hockey Canada. That means more freedom for the Wings when they recruit talent. They could ice up to 14 Europeans, and as many 20 year-olds as they like.
“It’s [WPHA] geared more towards late bloomers. Not someone who has been drafted at 14 and are kind of in a system since 15-16. It’s more for guys coming right out of midget who are still improving. And that 18-19 year old kid who still wants to play college somewhere,” said Prue.
In comparison, Hockey Canada only allows two international players and a couple of overagers. So far, there are no players signed.
How will this affect the Junior B Cold Lake Ice?
The Ice will still bolster most of the local talent. But in a press release Thursday said they are not affiliated with the Cold Lake Wings.
“The Cold Lake Ice are moving ahead this next season and look forward to continuing to be Cold Lake’s home team that is comprised of the majority of players from the Lakeland. We look forward to the continued support from our dedicated fans and generous sponsors and amazing volunteers. The Cold Lake Ice are still your community minded non-profit organization here to represent the city of Cold Lake. Looking forward to seeing everyone in the 2018/2019 hockey season.”
The sponsorship space in the Energy Centre will be split 50-50 between the Ice and Wings, and the Ice will keep their dressing room.
“The idea is that both teams work together. Basically the idea is you’re selling a product on the ice,” said Copeland.
“There’s a lot of opportunity in that arena. Basically, it’s each teams opportunity now for three hours to market in what is arguably one of the best arenas for Junior A hockey in Alberta.”
Roughly 400 kids from Alberta, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia play in tuition-based Junior A leagues already, and a hundred Canadians play in the Western States Hockey League (WSHL). It is the father league of the WPHA and graduates 70-80% of their talent to American collegiate hockey.
“The whole point of Junior A is their lives are still committed to hockey. They don’t have jobs. They don’t go to school for the most part. They’re at the rink every single day working out – trying to move forward. So the WSHL graduates a vast majority of their players so that’s really a deciding factor.”
Training camp will begin in the last week of September with the 52 game regular season kicking off in mid-October. Games will be on the weekends, with some scheduled crossover matchups against American teams sprinkled into the campaign.