The Western Hockey League (WHL) is a junior ice hockey league based in Western Canada and the Northwestern United States. The WHL is one of three leagues that constitutes the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) as the highest level of junior hockey in Canada, alongside the Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League. Teams play for the Ed Chynoweth Cup, with the winner moving on to play for the Memorial Cup, Canada's national junior championship. WHL teams have won the Memorial Cup 19 times. The WHL is composed of 22 teams divided into two conferences of two divisions. The Eastern Conference comprises 11 teams from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, while the Western Conference comprises eleven teams from British Columbia and the American states of Washington and Oregon.

Western Hockey League
Current season, competition or edition:
Current sports event 2023–24 WHL season
FormerlyCanadian Major Junior Hockey League (1966–67)
Western Canada Junior Hockey League (1967–68)
Western Canada Hockey League (1968–1978)
SportIce hockey
CommissionerRon Robison
No. of teams22
  • Canada (16 teams)
  • United States (6 teams)
HeadquartersCalgary, Alberta
Most recent
Moose Jaw Warriors (1)
Most titlesKamloops Blazers (6)
TV partner(s)Canada
United States
Official Edit this at Wikidata

The league was founded in 1966 as the Canadian Major Junior Hockey League (CMJHL), with seven teams in Saskatchewan and Alberta. For its 1967 season, the league was renamed the Western Canada Junior Hockey League (WCJHL). From 1968, the league was renamed the Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL), and finally the Western Hockey League from 1978 after the admission of American-based teams to the league.

The league was the brainchild of Bill Hunter, who desired to build a western league capable of competing with the top leagues in Ontario and Quebec. He partnered with Scotty Munro, Del Wilson, and Jim Piggott to make this vision a reality. Originally considered an "outlaw league" by the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, the western league was not sanctioned as a top junior league until 1970, when Canadian junior hockey was reorganized.



Tumultuous beginnings


Despite winning the 1966 Memorial Cup, Edmonton Oil Kings' owner Bill Hunter was growing concerned about the state of junior hockey in Western Canada. Each of the West's four provinces had its own junior league, and Hunter felt that this put them at a disadvantage when competing nationally against larger leagues based in Ontario and Quebec. Desiring stronger competition, Hunter's Oil Kings were competing in both the Alberta Junior Hockey League and the senior Central Alberta Hockey League.[1] During the 1966 Memorial Cup, Hunter made newspaper headlines when he outlined his vision for a nation-wide junior hockey league competing for the Memorial Cup. The Canadian Amateur Hockey Association's (CAHA) second vice-president Lloyd Pollock responded by saying that the idea was a pipe dream, and was not feasible while the CAHA was re-negotiating a development agreement with the National Hockey League (NHL).[2]

CAHA informed the Oil Kings that they were required to play full-time in a junior hockey league for the 1966–67 season or would be ineligible to compete for the Memorial Cup. This led Hunter to endorse the suggestion of Estevan Bruins owner Scotty Munro to create a new Western regional junior league.[3] Five members of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL)—the Bruins, Moose Jaw Canucks, Regina Pats, Saskatoon Blades, and Weyburn Red Wings—left the SJHL and joined the Oil Kings and the Calgary Buffaloes in forming the Canadian Major Junior Hockey League (CMJHL). Despite concerns that the CMJHL would mean the demise of the Alberta and Saskatchewan leagues—the SJHL did immediately fold—the governing bodies in both provinces sanctioned the new league. However, CAHA did not sanction it, declaring the CMJHL to be an "outlaw league" and suspending its teams and players from participation in CAHA events, including the Memorial Cup.[4] The new league accused CAHA of overstepping its boundaries and, with the support of the players and their families, chose to play the season regardless.[5] The CMJHL began legal action against the CAHA executive in March 1967, fighting to regain eligibility to enter the Memorial Cup tournament.[6]

In May 1967, the CMJHL renamed itself to the Western Canada Junior Hockey League (WCJHL).[7] The league also added four new teams, including the Swift Current Broncos and three teams based in Manitoba—the Brandon Wheat Kings, Flin Flon Bombers, and Winnipeg Jets.[3] The new CAHA-NHL development agreement came into effect July 1, 1967. The new pact ended direct sponsorship of junior teams by the NHL, which shifted to paying development fees to CAHA, with junior players becoming eligible for the NHL entry draft at age 20.[8] With the agreement settled, CAHA finally sanctioned the WCHL, which allowed for the league champion Estevan Bruins to compete for the 1968 Memorial Cup.[9] However, in May 1968, Hunter announced that the league would use an age limit of 21 in spite of the CAHA-NHL agreement. The WCJHL claimed that the lower age limit decreased its talent pool and negatively impacted ticket sales. In response, CAHA again suspended the league and its players.[10]

In June 1968, the WCJHL changed its name to the Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL), and announced that it was leaving CAHA to form the rival Canadian Hockey Association (CHA). Hunter became chairman of the board for the WCHL, and Ron Butlin became president of the WCHL and the CHA.[11] Concerns over the WCHL's relationship with CAHA and a desire to compete for the Memorial Cup led the Pats, Canucks, and Red Wings to withdraw before the 1968–69 season, and join a revived Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League instead.[9] At the conclusion of the season, the CHA organized its own national championship, which pitted the WCHL-champion Flin Flon Bombers against the St. Thomas Barons from Ontario. The initiative was undermined when the Barons withdrew from the best-of-seven series during the fourth game in protest of alleged violent play on the part of the Bombers. The Bombers, who were awarded the title, proceeded to challenge the Memorial Cup champion-Montreal Junior Canadiens to a championship showdown, but the Montreal team declined.[12]

After years of disputes, Canadian junior hockey was reorganized in 1970, with CAHA absorbing the CHA and re-sanctioning the WCHL, making it one of three top-flight major junior leagues, along with the Ontario Hockey Association—now the Ontario Hockey League—and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League—now the Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League.[9] Then, in 1972, the format of the Memorial Cup was changed to become a tournament between the champion of each major junior league.[13]

Early years

Bobby Clarke's Flin Flon Bombers jersey on display at the 2007 Memorial Cup in Vancouver.

The league's first decade saw constant expansion and franchise movement as the league spread throughout the west. The Flin Flon Bombers, led by future NHL stars Bobby Clarke and Reggie Leach, became the league's first powerhouse team, making three straight finals appearances and winning back-to-back championships in 1969 and 1970. The WCHL became a truly western league in 1971 when the Estevan Bruins moved to British Columbia to become the New Westminster Bruins, joined by the expansion Victoria Cougars and Vancouver Nats.[3]

In the mid-1970s, the Bruins established the WCHL's first true dynasty, capturing four consecutive championships between 1975 and 1978. The Bruins also won back-to-back Memorial Cup championships in 1977 and 1978.[14]

In 1976, the Oil Kings, facing pressure from the professional Edmonton Oilers of the World Hockey Association, relocated to Oregon to become the Portland Winter Hawks, marking the WCHL's first American club.[15] With the addition of two more American teams in the Seattle Breakers and Billings Bighorns a year later, the WCHL shortened its name to the Western Hockey League.[3] Despite the Flin Flon Bombers' early success, the remoteness and size of the community increasingly posed a challenge, and in 1978 the team relocated to Edmonton in a brief revival of the Oil Kings—the team would move again a year later and become the Great Falls Americans.

The brawling '80s


The 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 manager and 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 $2,250 and players suspended for 73 combined games. 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."[citation needed] LaForge resigned following the season after serving three separate suspensions.

On January 19, 1983, the Seattle Breakers dealt Tom Martin and $35,000 to the Victoria Cougars for the Cougars' team bus. The Breakers had been 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 in the crash.[16] The Broncos retired their numbers and introduced a commemorative patch in remembrance of the four players; in 2016, a memorial was unveiled at the crash site.[17] The WHL later renamed its award for most valuable player as the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy in their honour.[18] In 1989, less than three years after the crash, the Broncos won the league title and the Memorial Cup.[19]

The 1990s

The Moose Jaw Warriors in action against the Saskatoon Blades.

The 1990s saw another period of expansion and the return of the league to Western Canada's major cities. In 1991, the Spokane Chiefs became the second American team to win the Memorial Cup. The Kamloops Blazers established themselves as the WHL's second dynasty when they won both the WHL Championship and Memorial Cup three times in four years between 1992 and 1995.[20]

In 1995, the Calgary Hitmen, founded by 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 were a success, averaging as many as 10,000 fans per game by 2004–05. The Hitmen were followed one year later by the Edmonton Ice, but that team failed after only two seasons because of conflicts with the Edmonton Oilers. The team became the Kootenay Ice in Cranbrook, British Columbia, and found better success—including winning the 2002 Memorial Cup—despite being in one of the smallest markets in the league.

The twenty-first century


In the 2000s, the league expanded four more times. The Vancouver Giants joined in 2001, the Everett Silvertips in 2003, the Chilliwack Bruins in 2005—the team relocated in 2011 and became the Victoria Royals—and the Edmonton Oil Kings in 2007. The Kelowna Rockets established a run of dominance, winning three WHL titles in 2003, 2005, and 2009, and winning the Memorial Cup as host in 2004.

2011 saw WHL teams participate in two outdoor games for the first time. The Spokane Chiefs hosted the Kootenay Ice on January 15, and on February 21, the Calgary Hitmen hosted the Regina Pats for a game in conjunction with the 2011 Heritage Classic. A third outdoor game was hosted by Regina as part of the 2019 Heritage Classic, featuring a rematch against the Hitmen.

The league was significantly disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which emerged in North America in early 2020. The 2019–20 season was cut short and its playoffs ultimately cancelled due to the pandemic, while the 2020–21 season was played in a modified format, with teams playing 24-game in-division schedules with no playoffs. As such, neither the Ed Chynoweth Cup nor the Memorial Cup were awarded in 2020 or 2021.[21] The league returned to a regular schedule for 2021–22, and the Oil Kings became the first team to win the Ed Chynoweth Cup since the Prince Albert Raiders in 2019.[22]

Member teams


The WHL comprises 22 teams divided into two conferences, making it the largest league in the CHL—the Ontario Hockey League has 20 teams and the Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League has 18. The WHL has member teams across four Canadian provinces and two American states. The Eastern Conference comprises teams from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. The Western Conference is made up of teams based in British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon.

The top eight teams in each conference qualify for the playoffs, with the division winners declared the top two seeds in the first round of the post-season. In the playoffs, the four remaining teams in each conference are reseeded by regular season points in the second round.

* Indicates franchise was relocated from original location

Franchise history and timeline


Former member Current member

Player eligibility


The WHL Bantam Draft is an annual event in which teams select players from bantam hockey league age groups, i.e. 14 or 15 years old. The order of selection depends on the league's standings.

Players aged 15 to 20 are eligible to play in the WHL, with some restrictions. 15-year-olds are permitted to play only five games, unless their midget team's season has ended. Meanwhile, each team is allowed to have only three 20-year-olds on their rosters, except for expansion teams, for which five 20-year-olds are eligible to play. Each team is permitted to carry only two non-North American players, and teams have the opportunity to select such players through the CHL Import Draft.[23][24]

Each of the CHL's three member leagues are granted exclusive territorial rights to players from within North America. The WHL holds rights to players from the four western provinces, the American Pacific Northwest, all other American states west of the Mississippi River (except Missouri), and the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut.



With most players joining the league while still attending school, the WHL takes a role in its players educational needs. The league operates a scholarship program that offers one full year of tuition, textbooks, and compulsory fees for each season played in the WHL. Since this program was introduced in 1993, more than 3,000 scholarships had been handed out at a total value of CA$9 million by 2008.[25] Teams maintain academic advisors, who monitor the academic progress of players along with the league's Director of Education Services.[26]

Canadian universities and colleges recruit extensively from the WHL, affording graduating players the opportunity to continue playing hockey in U Sports competition as they attend post-secondary institutions. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) considers graduates of the CHL to be professionals and thus ineligible to participate in college hockey programs in the United States. Players hoping to receive scholarships to, and play for, American universities must play Junior A hockey in the British Columbia Hockey League, one of the Canadian Junior Hockey League's member organizations, or the United States Hockey League to retain their NCAA eligibility.[27]

Champions and awards


Memorial Cup Champions

The Vancouver Giants celebrate their 2007 Memorial Cup victory.
The Spokane Chiefs' 2008 Memorial Cup banner.

WHL teams earn the right to compete in the annual Memorial Cup tournament by winning the WHL playoff championship or, since 1983, by hosting the tournament. Altogether, the Memorial Cup has been won by WHL teams nineteen times since the league's founding.[28][29]

League records

Team records for a single season[30]
Statistic Total Team Season
Most points 125 Brandon Wheat Kings 1978–79
Most wins 60 Victoria Cougars 1980–81
Most wins, inaugural season 35 Everett Silvertips 2003–04
Most goals for 496 Kamloops Blazers 1986–87
Fewest goals against 125 Kelowna Rockets 2003–04
Individual player records for a single season[30]
Statistic Player Total Season
Most goals Ray Ferraro 108 1983–84
Most assists Rob Brown 136 1986–87
Most points Rob Brown 212 1986–87
Most points, rookie Petr Nedved 145 1989–90
Most points, defenceman Cam Plante 140 1983–84

League awards

The Ed Chynoweth Cup is awarded to the WHL's playoff champion.
Award Purpose Most recent
Ed Chynoweth Cup Playoff champion Moose Jaw Warriors
WHL Playoff MVP Most valuable player in the playoffs Denton Mateychuk (Moose Jaw Warriors)
Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy Regular season champion Saskatoon Blades
Four Broncos Memorial Trophy Player of the year Jagger Firkus (Moose Jaw Warriors)
Doc Seaman Trophy Scholastic player of the year Noah Chadwick (Lethbridge Hurricanes)
Bob Clarke Trophy Top scorer Jagger Firkus (Moose Jaw Warriors)
Brad Hornung Trophy Most sportsmanlike Brayden Yager (Moose Jaw Warriors)
Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy Top defenceman Denton Mateychuk (Moose Jaw Warriors)
Del Wilson Trophy Top goaltender Brett Mirwald (Vancouver Giants)
Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy Top rookie Gavin McKenna (Medicine Hat Tigers)
WHL Plus-Minus Award Best +/- rating Zac Funk (Prince George Cougars)
Dunc McCallum Memorial Trophy Top coach Mark Lamb (Prince George Cougars)
Lloyd Saunders Memorial Trophy Top executive Mark Lamb (Prince George Cougars)
Allen Paradice Memorial Trophy Top official Jeff Ingram
Doug Wickenheiser Humanitarian of the year Ty Hurley (Kelowna Rockets)
St. Clair Group Trophy Best public relations Edmonton Oil Kings


  • Frank Boucher (Commissioner), 1966–1968
  • Ron Butlin (President), 1968–1971
  • Jim Piggott (President) & Tom Fisher (Executive Secretary), 1971–1972
  • Del Wilson (President) & Tom Fisher (Executive Secretary), 1972–1973
  • Ed Chynoweth (President), 1973–1979
  • David Descent (President), 1979–1980
  • Ed Chynoweth (President), 1980–1995
  • Dev Dley (Commissioner), 1995–2000
  • Ron Robison (Commissioner), 2000–present

See also



  • Flett, Corey; Watts, Jessie, eds. (2008). 2008–09 WHL Guide. Western Hockey League.
  • "Western Hockey League seasons". Retrieved February 11, 2009.
  • Richard Lapp; Silas White. Local Heroes: A History of the Western Hockey League.
  1. ^ "1963 & 1966 Edmonton Oil Kings Hockey Teams". Alberta Sports Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on November 30, 2023. Retrieved June 3, 2024.
  2. ^ "Sees All-Canada Junior League". Winnipeg Free Press. Winnipeg, Manitoba. May 14, 1966. p. 65. 
  3. ^ a b c d "WHL History". Western Hockey League. Archived from the original on July 31, 2023. Retrieved July 31, 2023.
  4. ^ "Buffaloes continue program". Calgary Herald. October 4, 1966. p. 14.
  5. ^ "CMJHL may play without official sanction of CAHA". Calgary Herald. October 5, 1966. p. 55.
  6. ^ "Action Opened By Junior Loop". Lethbridge Herald. Lethbridge, Alberta. March 30, 1967. p. 11. 
  7. ^ "CMJHL Now Becomes WCJHL". Brandon Sun. Brandon, Manitoba. May 27, 1967. p. 12. 
  8. ^ "Sweeping Changes In Pro-Am Hockey Pact". Winnipeg Free Press. Winnipeg, Manitoba. August 19, 1966. p. 22. 
  9. ^ a b c Lapp, Richard M.; White, Silas (1993). Local Heroes: A History of the Western Hockey League. Madeira Park, British Columbia: Harbour Publishing. pp. 11–12. ISBN 1-55017-080-5.
  10. ^ "WCJHL Move Causes New Controversy". Brandon Sun. Brandon, Manitoba. May 29, 1968. p. 8. 
  11. ^ Koroluk, Korry (June 10, 1968). "C.A.H.A. Has Challenge". Lethbridge Herald. Lethbridge, Alberta. p. 6. 
  12. ^ Cuthbert, Chris (1998). The Rink: Stores from Hockey's Home Towns. Toronto: Penguin. pp. 209–210. ISBN 9780140266023.
  13. ^ Lapp, Richard; Macaulay, Alec (1997). The Memorial Cup: Canada's National Junior Hockey Championship. Madeira Park, B.C.: Harbour Publishing. p. 152. ISBN 1-55017-170-4.
  14. ^ "McLean tells tales of New West's brawling Bruins". New Westminster Record. February 12, 2016. Archived from the original on July 31, 2023. Retrieved July 31, 2023.
  15. ^ Matheson, Jim (May 26, 1976). "Oil Kings get CAHA nod for move to Portland". Edmonton Journal. p. 67.
  16. ^ Naylor, David & Leriche, Timothy (December 31, 1986). "Tragedy hits hockey club". Calgary Sun. p. 5.
  17. ^ "Memorial unveiled on 30th anniversary of crash that killed 4 Swift Current hockey players". CBC News. December 30, 2016. Archived from the original on December 31, 2016. Retrieved May 12, 2024.
  18. ^ "Four Broncos Memorial Trophy". Western Hockey League. Archived from the original on October 18, 2009. Retrieved February 11, 2009.
  19. ^ Morrison, Scott (February 6, 2019). "From Tragedy to Triumph: The story of the Swift Current Broncos". Sportsnet. Archived from the original on July 31, 2023. Retrieved July 31, 2023.
  20. ^ Kovac, Rob; Seitz, Earl (February 22, 2020). "The Blazers 10 year dynasty". CFJC. Archived from the original on May 17, 2024. Retrieved May 17, 2024.
  21. ^ "WHL cancels 2021 playoffs due to COVID-19 restrictions". CBC Sports. The Canadian Press. April 19, 2021. Archived from the original on April 20, 2021. Retrieved June 5, 2024.
  22. ^ Heidenreich, Phil (June 14, 2022). "Edmonton Oil Kings capture WHL championship with Game 6 win over Seattle Thunderbirds". Global News. Archived from the original on June 14, 2022. Retrieved May 14, 2024.
  23. ^ "WHL Frequently Asked Questions". Western Hockey League. Retrieved February 3, 2011.
  24. ^ Sapurji, Sunaya (June 27, 2018). "How the CHL Import Draft (really) works". The Athletic. The New York Times. Archived from the original on June 5, 2024. Retrieved June 5, 2024.
  25. ^ Aykroyd, Lucas (December 2008). "School's in Session". Prospects Hockey: WHL9–WHL11.
  26. ^ Flett, Corey; Watts, Jessie, eds. (2008). 2008–09 WHL Guide. Western Hockey League. p. 191.
  27. ^ Lamb, Kirk (2008). "Guide for College Bound Hockey Players". Alberta Junior Hockey League. p. 34.
  28. ^ "Memorial Cup History". Canadian Hockey League. Archived from the original on January 30, 2024. Retrieved May 13, 2024.
  29. ^ Cornett, Tim (May 14, 2019). "A look back at the history of the Memorial Cup". Hometown Hockey. Archived from the original on February 7, 2024. Retrieved May 13, 2024.
  30. ^ a b "WHL Official Guide". Western Hockey League. Archived from the original on March 24, 2024. Retrieved May 13, 2024.