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KIJHL Commissioner discusses COVID-19, education and positive future

KIJHL Commissioner Jeff Dubois said excitement is building for stretch drive and playoffs in 2022.

Since joining the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League as commissioner late in the 2019-20 season, Jeff Dubois has navigated the league through the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this Question & Answer article, Dubois touches on what the experience working with the league has been like, placing a focus on post-secondary education for players and more.

KIJHL: What was your first season as commissioner of the KIJHL like?

Jeff Dubois: The past year and a half was a lot different from what everybody involved with the KIJHL expected due to COVID. But at the same time, it’s been a great experience getting to build relationships with all of the people involved with our league and set the direction for the next few years. On the ice, there have certainly been frustrations; I feel terrible for the 20-year olds the past two seasons who haven’t had the opportunity to compete for a championship in their final season of junior hockey. But getting back on track this season has been a great reminder of what makes our league great — we’ve really felt the community support and the enthusiasm from our fans. It’s been pretty obvious how much our players and coaches missed doing what they do, and we’re probably more excited than we’ve ever been for the stretch drive and playoffs in 2022.

KIJHL: What kind of league do you envision the KIJHL shifting into?

Jeff Dubois: First of all, the KIJHL is already in a great place in so many ways. The competitive level you see with our players on the ice, the individuals who are involved with our clubs as coaches and team staff, and all those who support our teams as volunteers and billet parents… we’ve got a great foundation as a league because of those people. I think there’s two areas where we need to make some strides, and the first part of that is how we tell our story as a league and promote our players to higher levels of hockey. People who know our league understand what a great product we have, but it’s going to be very important over the next few years that we attract the best possible athletes and help those young men reach their goals on and off the ice. A big part of that is how we promote our league and our players. The second part is embracing technology, whether that’s through our broadcasts, our website and social media, or the resources that we offer our players to help aid their development — tools like Instat and HockeyTV. There’s no reason why we can’t be at the forefront of utilizing technology to take our league to a higher level.

KIJHL: In adding Tom McEvay and having him work with teams to enhance their education programs, how do you see that making the KIJHL a more attractive option to players?

Jeff Dubois: Having someone with Tom’s expertise in student-athlete advancement is a huge asset for our league. There isn’t a person in Western Canada who knows more about navigating the various pathways to university and college hockey, so our players and team staff are really going to benefit from his knowledge and guidance. Bringing Tom aboard is the first step in ensuring that every player who comes through our league has access to all the resources they need to have a full picture of their post-secondary hockey options.

KIJHL: What was the decision behind adding the shootout to decide games after overtime? Do you feel it has added another level of entertainment to the league?

Jeff Dubois: If you poll 100 different people you’ll get a bunch of different answers in terms of how to settle games beyond regulation. At the end of the day, we’re following the lead of all the leagues our players advance to in adopting the shootout. I think it’s a format that our fans enjoy because it gives you a great opportunity to see the high skill level and creativity of our top players.

KIJHL: What would you like to see happen with the KIJHL that can take it to another level to attract players?

Jeff Dubois: As a league I think we can do a better job highlighting the many success stories of young men who have developed in the KIJHL and then gone on to Junior A, Major Junior, NCAA, USports and professional hockey. It’s tough to find a league — whether that’s the NHL, the AHL, the WHL, the NCAA, the BCHL, the AJHL… the list goes on and on — where you don’t have KIJHL graduates succeeding at a high level. Developing those athletes for success in the future is part of our DNA as a league and I think it’s pretty easy to attract the next wave of young players when they understand the track record that our teams and coaches bring to the table.

KIJHL: What are some things you have seen so far this season that you view as positives?

Jeff Dubois: The biggest thing that stands out is what a phenomenal job our teams, coaches, volunteers and players have done to come back to hockey in a safe way. COVID-19 has had a huge impact on everything we do, but when you look at the last 15 months, it’s clear from the numbers how effectively everyone involved with the KIJHL has followed the protocols and guidelines to exist in the safest possible environment. Beyond that, our partnership with HockeyTech has been a big positive. It’s something our fans can see when they watch games on HockeyTV or visit our website, but there are other things — like Rinknet and TradeCentre — that have added a lot of value behind the scenes. Our partnership with Instat has been an important new tool that benefits all of our athletes and teams. And you already mentioned Tom and the work he’s doing with our Education program. Overall, I think there’s more resources and more ways to connect with the KIJHL than there have been in the past.

KIJHL: What do you think of the talent level that teams have been able to recruit or trade for?

Jeff Dubois: We’re very happy with the skill level in the league this season, and it’s great to see the impact that some of our top young players are making. We’ve got a bunch of 17 and 18-year olds amongst our scoring leaders, and that’s territory that’s usually dominated by graduating 20-year olds. A number of players have already moved on to Junior A hockey during the season and we’re going to see a number of commitments for next season in the New Year.