The Western Hockey League is one of the three Major Junior ice hockey leagues which constitute the Canadian Hockey League. It was founded in 1966 as the Western Canada Junior Hockey League, and then Western Canada Hockey League with Bill Hunter as chairman of the board. In 1978, it became known as the Western Hockey League. The league is often referred to as the "dub", for the first syllable of "W".
Hunter's hopes became reality in the summer of 1966, when a revolt within the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League caused several of its top clubs, the Estevan Bruins, Regina Pats, Saskatoon Blades, Moose Jaw Canucks, and Weyburn Red Wings, to leave the league and join Hunter's Oil Kings and a new franchise in Calgary, the Calgary Buffaloes. The seven franchises formed the Western Canada Junior Hockey League. The Moose Jaw Canucks won the first league championship.
In the beginning, the WCHL—which dropped the word 'Junior' from its name in 1968—battled continuously with the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association. Initially, the CAHA considered the WCHL to be an "outlaw league", and denied its champions the right to compete for the Memorial Cup. The provincial junior leagues quickly realized that the WCHL was too strong to compete against, and bowed out of competition for the Memorial Cup. When the CAHA reorganized junior hockey in 1971, it named the WCHL one of three Tier I Major-Junior leagues, along with the Ontario Hockey Association's Tier I division (now the Ontario Hockey League) and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
The first decade of the WCHL saw constant expansion and franchise movement as the league spread throughout the West. The Flin Flon Bombers became the league's first powerhouse team, led by future NHL stars Bobby Clarke and Reggie Leach. The Brandon Wheat Kings and Swift Current Broncos joined in 1967, the Medicine Hat Tigers in 1970. The WCHL truly became a western league in 1971 when Estevan moved to B.C. to become the New Westminster Bruins, joined by expansion franchises the Victoria Cougars and Vancouver Nats.
In the mid 1970s, the New Westminster Bruins became the WCHL's first true dynasty, capturing four consecutive championships between 1975 and 1978. The Bruins also won back-to-back Memorial Cups in 1977 and 1978.
In 1976, the Oil Kings succumbed to the competing Edmonton Oilers of the World Hockey Association and relocated to Portland to become the Winter Hawks, the WCHL's first American franchise. With the addition of American teams in Seattle and Billings a year later, the WCHL shortened its name to the Western Hockey League.
Brawling '80sThe 1980s were marked by several brawls that involved police intervention, one of the most bizarre trades in hockey history, and the tragic deaths of four players in a bus crash.
Early in the 1980–81 WHL season, Medicine Hat Tigers GM/Coach Pat Ginnell traded blows with a linesman during a bench clearing brawl against the Lethbridge Broncos. Ginnell was found guilty of assault, fined $360, and suspended for 36 games by the WHL. In March 1982 a violent brawl between the Regina Pats and Calgary Wranglers saw the two teams collectively fined $2250 and players suspended for 73 games combined. Pats coach Bill LaForge would end up in a courtroom later that season when he got into an altercation with a fan. LaForge was acquitted when the judge noted that it was hard to convict a man for assault when faced with "an obnoxious person trying to get into the coach's area." LaForge resigned following the season after serving three separate suspensions.
On January 19, 1983, the Seattle Breakers dealt the rights to Tom Martin to the Victoria Cougars in exchange for the Cougars' team bus. The deal made perfect sense: the Breakers were unable to sign Martin, who wanted to play in his home town of Victoria, and the Cougars were unable to use the bus (which they had purchased from the folded Spokane Flyers) because they were unwilling to pay the taxes and duties required to register the vehicle in Canada.
On December 30, 1986, tragedy struck the Swift Current Broncos when their bus slid off an icy highway and rolled on the way to Regina for a game. Scott Kruger, Trent Kresse, Brent Ruff, and Chris Mantyka were killed. The Broncos retired their numbers, and as of 2007 still wear a commemorative patch in remembrance of the four players who died. The WHL would later rename the award for most valuable player as the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy in their honour.
The last 15 years in the WHL have been marked by another period of expansion and the return of the league to Western Canada's major cities. The Kamloops Blazers became the WHL's second dynasty in the early 1990s when they won both the WHL Championship and Memorial Cup three times in four years between 1992 and 1995. The Kelowna Rockets have become the third dynasty, winning two WHL titles in 2003 and 2005, and winning the Memorial Cup as host city in 2004.
In 1995, the Calgary Hitmen were born when a group of investors, including Bret "the Hitman" Hart, from whom the team got its name, were granted an expansion franchise. Despite early fears that the WHL could not succeed in an NHL city, the Hitmen have been a major success, averaging as many as 10,000 fans per game in 2004–05. The Hitmen were followed one year later by the Edmonton Ice, who failed after only two seasons because of conflicts with the Edmonton Oilers. The team would become the Kootenay Ice, who have become a major success in Cranbrook, British Columbia despite being one of the smallest markets in the league. In the new millennium, the league has given birth to four new expansion teams—the Vancouver Giants in 2001, the Everett Silvertips in 2003, the Chilliwack Bruins in 2005, and the Edmonton Oil Kings in 2007, as the Oilers have taken an interest in cultivating a junior team in the Alberta capital.
The WHL is stereotypically known for producing large, hard-hitting defencemen and gritty power forwards, although recently a high percentage of quality goaltenders have come out of the Dub as well, as evidenced by the fact that the last five winners of the CHL Goaltender of the Year award have come from the WHL.
For the 2007–08 season, the WHL is comprised of 22 teams divided into two conferences. The WHL welcomed the city of Edmonton back into the fold, as the expansion Edmonton Oil Kings revived a historical team name in the Alberta capital.
The WHL has member teams across four Canadian provinces, and two American states. The Eastern Conference comprises teams from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and eastern British Columbia. The Western Conference is made up of teams based in British Columbia, Washington State and Oregon.
2007–08 seasonThe 2007–08 WHL season is the 42nd season for the Western Hockey League. A new expansion team, the Edmonton Oil Kings have joined the league, bringing the WHL to 22 teams that will play a 72 game season.
The Oil Kings join the Central Division of the Eastern Conference, bringing the Eastern Conference to twelve teams, and the Western Conference ten. The new team in Alberta's capital will be the fourth WHL team to represent the city of Edmonton, preceded by the original Oil Kings franchises that played in the 1960s and 1970s, and later the Edmonton Ice, who played two seasons from 1996–98 before relocating to the Kootenays.
The playoff format has been revised so that the top eight teams in the conference qualify for the playoffs, as opposed to the top four in each division. Division winners are guaranteed a top two seed in each conference.
WHL Bantam DraftThe WHL Bantam Draft is an annual event which teams select players from bantam hockey league age groups, 14 or 15 years old. The order of selection depends on the final standings of the teams, the last place team selects first the 2nd to last will choose 2nd and so on.
Memorial Cup ChampionsThe Memorial Cup has been captured by a WHL team 18 times since the league's founding:
WHL RecordsIndividual records
List of WHL trophies and awards