The Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) will see major changes next season as five teams are set to leave the league and join another.
The independent British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) announced Saturday that it will be welcoming five Alberta-based teams to join its league for the 2024-25 season: Blackfalds Bulldogs, Brooks Bandits, Okotoks Oilers, Sherwood Park Crusaders and Spruce Grove Saints.
However, in a statement on Saturday, the Alberta Junior Hockey League said it wasn't given an official notice from the teams regarding the departure.
"The AJHL was informed through an announcement from the BCHL of a decision by five member teams to join the BCHL for the 2024-2025 season. No official notice has been provided to the AJHL from the respective teams," the statement said.
"As a league we are assessing next steps and schedule implications."
Sports league expert Dan Mason said the news doesn't come as a surprise considering how the BCHL has been a "picking ground" for players looking to get a scholarship to play with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
"Those teams that are leaving are ones that have been very prominent within the [AJHL]," Mason said.
"We're seeing a streamlining of the elite delivery system for hockey players," he said.
Dan Mason said the five most prominent teams in the AJCL are leaving. (Google Meets)
"It would make sense to have the better and stronger AJHL teams join up with the BCHL teams, because it makes it easier to scout players, easier to recruit and easier to showcase playing talent for attraction to the NCAA."
Last year, the BCHL parted ways from Hockey Canada and has been operating as an independent league.
The league previously said the move was made so players under the age of 18 who are looking to compete in college hockey in the United States would have more competitive options.
The BCHL allows for teams to recruit 16- and 17-year-old players from other provinces, which is not allowed in Hockey Canada-sanctioned Junior A leagues.
In a statement to CBC News, Hockey Canada said it will continue to work with Hockey Alberta, the AJHL and the Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL) to provide opportunities for people to compete in the game in the province.
"While we feel strongly that our model for delivering hockey is to the benefit and safety of players, coaches, officials, parents, administrators and volunteers, we recognize that others are free to enjoy the game outside of Hockey Canada-sanctioned programs," said the statement.
Under current Hockey Canada regulations, if a player participates in an independent league like the BCHL, they are restricted from returning to Hockey Canada-sanctioned play for the entirety of the season
The move would reduce the number of teams in the AJHL from 16 to 11 while the BCHL would grow from 17 to 22 teams.
The future of the remaining AJHL teams is unclear.
CBC News asked the AJHL for comment but the league declined to comment.
In a statement posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Monday, the AJHL said it has not suspended any of its 16 member teams and will continue to operate as a member of the Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL).
The league has cancelled four games since the announcement Saturday. Three more are cancelled this week.
All of the cancelled games involve teams that are set to join the BCHL.
"The AJHL will continue to asses next steps and schedule implications," said the Monday statement.