Non-Sanctioned Hockey FAQs
BC Hockey CEO Cameron Hope took some time to answer some important questions about what non-sanctioned hockey is, what you should know about it and our policy.
What exactly is non-sanctioned hockey?
Cameron Hope (CH) - No one owns the game of hockey. The game is enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of Canadians, inside and outside of long-standing membership organizations like BC Hockey that provide “sanctioned” oversight and stewardship.
Non-sanctioned hockey is simply any hockey programming (ice times, practices, games, tournaments, etc.) that occurs outside of the membership oversight of BC Hockey and Hockey Canada. There is non-sanctioned hockey happening every day, and participants are free to enjoy the game as they wish, but most organized amateur hockey in Canada (both competitive and recreational) does occur within the oversight of a Hockey Canada member or partner.
Non-sanctioned hockey, and Non-Sanctioned Leagues, are those formed and delivered outside of Hockey Canada’s membership, and therefore outside of the rules, regulations, process, safeguards, and oversight of the national governing body. Here is the formal definition:
Non-Sanctioned Leagues include any amateur hockey league or program that operates in Canada outside of Hockey Canada registration and sanctioning. Hockey Canada and BC Hockey have no regulatory authority over unsanctioned leagues.
So, my hockey with BC Hockey is “sanctioned” hockey? How do I know?
CH - In B.C. and Yukon, BC Hockey is the regional member branch of Hockey Canada and is the stewardship and governing body for sanctioned hockey. BC Hockey is a non-profit Provincial Sports Organization (PSO).
For more than a century hockey’s delivery system has been built around the benefits of community sport, and has grown into what is now Hockey Canada, a national non-profit that has 13 member branches (including BC Hockey). This large and effective membership delivery model for the game serves all participants, from absolute beginners to the highest levels of elite competition. Member branches are joined together as members of Hockey Canada, who are in turn members of the IIHF.
This structure is referred to as “sanctioned” hockey, because it occurs within the stewardship of these sanctioning bodies. Within sanctioned hockey, members have created standards and consistency (with rules, regulations, and processes) for keeping the game safe, fair, and fun for all participants. It also seeks to make hockey sustainable in all communities, regardless of size or location. Within sanctioned hockey, we all work together to create and maintain a healthy landscape for players, officials, coaches, and volunteers to grow and thrive.
All the Minor Hockey Associations (MHAs) that you may be familiar with in your area (Semiahmoo, Kamloops, Victoria Racquet Club for example), and even accredited school programs (Okanagan Hockey Academy, or RINK, for example) are members of BC Hockey. So too are the Junior teams and leagues in the PJHL, VIJHL, and KIJHL. They all enjoy the benefits of being under the umbrella of BC Hockey and Hockey Canada. To read more about the benefits of a Hockey Canada Membership, click here.
Programs, teams and leagues overseen by BC Hockey, or any of our 200+ members, are all within our stewardship, and all enjoy the benefits of that membership. All participants that register to play hockey in B.C. or Yukon under the BC Hockey banner are registered with Hockey Canada. It makes us all a part of the same family, playing by the same rules, and enjoying the same coverage, support and benefits. With more than 600,000 participants registered each year in Canada, we think of it as Canada’s Biggest Team.
Why would anyone play non-sanctioned hockey?
CH - As mentioned, although Hockey Canada members have more than a century of experience in growing and delivering this great game to Canadians, we certainly don’t own the game. People are free to enjoy hockey in a variety of ways, even when it comes to organizing hockey teams and leagues.
From time-to-time unsanctioned teams and leagues do emerge. This happens when, for one reason or another, a group of people wish to run their team or league independently from Hockey Canada’s umbrella. After all, membership within sanctioned hockey has great benefits, but also comes with obligations in place for the greater benefit of all participants. In making a choice to operate as a non-sanctioned program, the choice is to operate outside of the mission, values, rules, protections, and traditional delivery model for our game.
Is the BCHL now non-sanctioned hockey?
CH - Yes. In 2023, the 18 member teams of the BCHL decided that they no longer wanted to operate within the rules, regulations or stewardship of BC Hockey or Hockey Canada. In doing so, they became a non-sanctioned league, comprised of non-sanctioned teams.
What happened with the BCHL, and what happens next?
CH - The BCHL grew as the Junior A member league of BC Hockey for many decades, enjoying the support and benefits of membership. Over the years the league developed into a good option for junior-aged players to pursue high performance hockey. So much so that the league was able to attract players from all over North America, and the teams in the BCHL continued to evolve their business and delivery models, both on-and-off the ice.
The BCHL members disagree with some restrictions and obligations in place for members. Unable to achieve certain changes they wished to see, they first left the CJHL (in 2021) and has now followed that with a complete severing of its ties with Hockey Canada. A visit to the BCHL website or social media is a good place to start in trying to understand the stated concerns these members appear to have with some of the obligations in place within sanctioned hockey.
We are disappointed that these members choose to leave membership rather than continue to work with us to find a delivery model within our membership that works for everyone. BC Hockey will continue to deliver junior hockey within sanctioned streams, at the highest level. There will be a short-term disruption, we expect, as we navigate a best way to address this corner of the ecosystem in our branch.
What about summer hockey, or pick-up hockey after work or school, or when my friends just rent some ice to play together? Is that a problem?
CH - Definitely not. Lots of people enjoy hockey outside of our stewardship. In most cases this takes place in programs outside of the usual hockey season, or in a recreational or school setting. For instance, the following programs are specifically exempted from Hockey Canada’s Policy regarding non-sanctioned hockey:
- Summer hockey leagues/teams
- Adult recreational hockey leagues/teams
- High school hockey
- Hockey schools
What are the major differences between a sanctioned and non-sanctioned league?
CH - Good question. After all, how different can sanctioned and non-sanctioned hockey be? They kind of look the same from the outside. However, when you look more closely, it becomes clear that there are important differences.
As mentioned, BC Hockey has been operating for over 100 years, working with Hockey Canada to create the best possible hockey experience for all. This means taking on the important task of ensuring that all players are learning from trained and certified coaches and staff, in the safest possible environment. Other responsibilities include constant attention to the evolution and change in the sport environment, creating programs to improve the ability of our coaches and officials, ensuring best practises for the administrators and associations, and always considering well-considered regulations so that all our teams safely play under the same basic rules across the country.
Our participants are also protected by Hockey Canada’s insurance, which (while we always hope no one has to use) is nice to have as an added layer of protection.
Also, notably, both BC Hockey and Hockey Canada are not-for-profit membership organizations. All revenue and costs are fully accounted for and put back into the programs, with transparency and accountability.
Non-sanctioned teams and leagues, on the other hand, are forging their own pathways in all these areas. This means that any player or parent considering a non-sanctioned program ought to have questions; like what does the league have in place for safety? Background checks? Maltreatment oversight and prevention? Training and certifications for coaches and team staff? Of course (and probably not surprisingly), in many cases these non-sanctioned programs try to employ coaches and administrators who have been trained by Hockey Canada and its members. Are these coaches still in good standing with their certifications? Are they suspended by Hockey Canada for any reason? These are just some of the questions worth asking. Also, hopefully the program has placed some form of insurance. The truth, though, is that unless participants ask these questions, there is no way to know what you are signing up for. You are on your own to try to find out how (or if) any of these matters are being addressed.
Here is a little more insight from Hockey Canada’s website:
Non-member programs or unsanctioned leagues are leagues that are not affiliated with Hockey Canada and operate outside of Hockey Canada’s existing minor hockey system. Unsanctioned leagues are wholly responsible for their own oversight. It is up to each individual unsanctioned league to determine how issues like injuries, harassment and rule infractions are handled.
In some cases, unsanctioned leagues operate without a constitution, without bylaws, without insurance and with their own customized rulebook for game play.
Hockey Canada has no regulatory authority over unsanctioned leagues, and cannot hear appeals, insure players or ensure a consistently high standard of game play in unsanctioned leagues. It is for this reason that Hockey Canada does not condone, endorse or create affiliations with unsanctioned leagues.
Finally, in many cases, these non-sanctioned teams and leagues are for-profit enterprises, where someone is trying to make money. There is nothing wrong with that, but it differentiates these leagues from the ones operated your local MHA.
Why does BC Hockey have a Policy about non-sanctioned participation?
CH - For our members, it comes down to a question of fairness and making sure member programs run smoothly. All of us under the Hockey Canada umbrella work very hard to make hockey safe, affordable, and fun for all participants. It is fulfilling, but also hard and sometimes complicated work. It requires collective funding, and a significant group commitment to our mission and values - as well as member, staff, and volunteer contributions of time and effort toward making the entire system work for everyone.
We want to ensure that everyone who participates in our game can enjoy all of the benefits of what membership brings – including all of those mentioned above, as well as the ability to access special programs such as our Program of Excellence (POE) development streams, or “play up” as an affiliated player in higher levels or leagues from time to time.
In short, we are proud of what has been created for our members to enjoy, and we are concerned when players or parents forego these benefits, perhaps without realizing or understanding it. And we are concerned about our member programs being disrupted by participants moving in and out of sanctioned programs without realizing how this affects programs.
What exactly is BC Hockey’s Program of Excellence (POE)?
CH - The POE program is where the best players in an age group compete to represent BC Hockey in games versus other provinces. Our POE program is highlighted by two teams that participate in annual tournaments. The Female U18 POE team competes in the National Women's U18 Championship that is run by Hockey Canada. The Male U16 POE team plays in the Western Hockey League's WHL Cup each season. Every four years these teams participate in the Canada Winter Games.
There are many different regional and provincial camps that offer opportunities for many players to tryout for these teams. These events are scouted heavily by teams from the Western Hockey League, British Columbia Hockey League as well as NCAA programs and for Hockey Canada. These are amazing opportunities and only available to BC Hockey registered players.
Do sanctioned and unsanctioned teams ever play one another in tournaments or exhibition games?
CH - They do not. Hockey Canada’s insurance requires all participants to be registered members to protect the health and safety of all.
Can I compete in both an unsanctioned and sanctioned league at the same time?
CH - No, you cannot. BC Hockey’s members feel strongly that it is most fair for all member participants that if you choose to play non-sanctioned hockey, you are there for the year. This is part of the BC Hockey Policy, and is similar to a Policy also in place from Hockey Canada. This restriction was already in place in some parts of B.C., and our members asked that it apply more consistently across B.C. and Yukon.
Also, these consequences of a decision to play non-sanctioned hockey endures even if the non-sanctioned league folds, or the team dissolves, or the player changes their mind and wants to return to a BC Hockey program. Players may be reinstated into sanctioned programs the following season.
What else should I know?
CH - The bottom line is that we want everyone who participates in our game to be well informed about what BC Hockey membership means and be educated about what it may mean to play hockey outside of our stewardship. For specific information about Hockey Canada’s Policy, and BC Hockey’s own Non-Sanctioned Policy, click the links below.
- Hockey Canada insurance programs are in place to protect every player, coach, assistant coach, manager, Hockey Canada Safety Program personnel, official and volunteer involved in Hockey Canada sanctioned hockey activities.
- The insurance programs eliminate or minimize the potential financial burden our members may face in the event that they are injured or implicated in a civil action arising from their participation in Hockey Canada programs.
*If a HC team plays a non-sanctioned team there is NO insurance coverage. If a HC official does a game involving a non-sanctioned team there is NO insurance coverage.
- Access for players and coaches to BC Hockey and Hockey Canada High Performance programs.
- Access to the Affiliate Player process within BC Hockey.
- Coaching staff must meet coaching certifications as outlined by Hockey Canada and BC Hockey.
- Access to BC Hockey and Hockey Canada resources for player development, coach development and mentoring.
- Officials that have met specific training and certification requirements.
- Participants in hockey activities that are sanctioned by Hockey Canada/BC Hockey are able to submit complaints of abuse, harassment or maltreatment to the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner (OSIC) or Hockey Canada’s Independent Third Party (ITP).
Benefits of the Hockey Canada Insurance Program
One of the benefits of being a member of Hockey Canada is knowing that you have an exceptional insurance program that has been built with the needs of its members in mind. Click the link below for full details.Click Here
Frequently Asked Questions By Hockey Parents
It's natural for parents or guardians new to minor hockey or hockey in general to have questions, whether they're about rules, equipment, registration, benefits, safety or something else. Click the link below for all of Hockey Canada's FAQs.Click Here
Hockey Canada: Community Engagement
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Hockey Canada: Pathway to Hockey for Players and Parents
This webpage is a great landing pad for more information on how you or your child can get started in hockey, including the benefits of doing so through a sanctioned program!Click Here