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Chilliwack signs son of former Canuck Malhotra, much to chagrin of OHL

Caleb Malhotra, who’s a centre like his dad was, was the No. 8 pick in the OHL Draft by the Kingston Frontenacs on the signing day that Chilliwack announced his commitment for next season

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Caleb Malhotra’s signing with the Chilliwack Chiefs for next season is on brand with what the B.C. Hockey League has been promoting since cutting ties with Hockey Canada last summer.

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The Chiefs announced on Friday that the 15-year-old son of former Vancouver Canucks centre and assistant coach Manny Malhotra had committed to their club for the 2024-25 campaign. That was the same day that Caleb had been picked No. 8 overall by the Kingston Frontenacs in the OHL Draft, coming off his season in the Greater Toronto Hockey League’s Under-16 triple A loop with the Vaughan Kings.

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Hockey Canada’s unwillingness to open up recruiting boundaries at the Junior A level for players going into their 16- and 17-year-old seasons was one of the main reasons that the BCHL cited when it declared in May that it was going independent and leaving the national sport organization’s system. 

The BCHL has regularly led leagues in this country in players with NCAA scholarships and has won more Junior A national titles than any other loop.

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Splitting with Hockey Canada meant that the BCHL had to fund its own insurance policy and find its own pool of referees and linesmen. As well, any players, coaches or officials taking part in BCHL games after Sept. 30 were deemed ineligible for any Hockey Canada activities for the rest of the campaign.

This year’s BCHL playoffs are still continuing. The Chiefs swept the Langley Rivermen in the best-of-seven first round and are waiting to start the second round. The Alberni Valley Bulldogs and the Coquitlam Express were playing a Game 7 on Tuesday night that will set up the next match-ups.

Chilliwack general manager and coach Brian Maloney says he expects Caleb to make a trip out west to see some playoff action.

“We’re getting a high-end, talented player who plans to be here for a few years. Selfishly, it’s great for the Chilliwack Chiefs,” Maloney said. “But, more importantly, it’s fantastic for our league. It’s what our league is meant to be, and that’s giving good, young, high-end prospects a chance to play at a higher level while keeping their (NCAA) eligibility open.

“It is what this league is designed for, after going back and forth with Hockey Canada over the last five years or so. We had to go independent to give kids a chance to stay in Canada and play at the highest level, which is our league.”

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Manny, who’s now a Toronto Maple Leafs’ assistant coach, played in the OHL with the Guelph Storm before moving onto his 16-year NHL playing career. He played three seasons with Vancouver. He was a Canucks’ assistant coach for four years before moving onto the Leafs.

Caleb’s mom is Joann Nash, who was a soccer standout at the University of Victoria. She’s the sister of Steve and Martin Nash.

Caleb is listed at 6-foot-1 and 154 pounds, and had 10 goals and 19 points in 20 games with Vaughan this season. He missed time with shoulder and quadriceps injuries.

Frontenacs GM Kory Cooper told The Kingston Whig Standard that the team believes they can still land Malhotra. He admitted that the Chilliwack signing was “maybe a little bit of a shock.” He also called Malhotra “the most talented, high-ceiling player of any player we watched this year.”

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“He’s a guy that when he’s on the ice, he possesses the puck, almost all the time,” Cooper continued. “Certainly, his skating ability, but really it’s his 200-foot game overall, and just the ceiling he has to just continue to grow as a player. I certainly believe he will be an NHL talent when it’s all said and done, and we’re hoping that’s facilitated through us.”

The Surrey Eagles won the BCHL Coastal Conference regular season with their 44-8-2-0 record and beat the No. 8 Cowichan Valley Capitals in five games in the first round. The Penticton Vees, at 38-10-3-3, won the Interior Conference and swept the No. 8 Prince George Spruce Kings in the opening round.

The Merritt Centennials finished sixth in the Interior regular season and were eliminated in the first round in six games by the Salmon Arm Silverbacks. The Centennials announced last month they’re ceasing operations and withdrawing from the BCHL at the end of the season. Spokesman Kelly Bartch blamed it on financial issues. Bartch admitted that the BCHL is more expensive under its new format, but also pointed to the team being more difficult to run after COVID-19 and flooding in the region.

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Besides opening up its recruiting boundaries across the country, the BCHL is permitting teams to carry two European players now.

A new ownership group in Merritt has been granted an expansion team in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League and it will take on the Centennials’ monicker. The KIJHL is the former Junior B league that was granted Junior A Tier II status by B.C. Hockey as part of looking to fill the void created by the BCHL leaving the Hockey Canada umbrella. The Pacific Junior Hockey and the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey leagues both were bumped up from Junior B as well, and the plan is to eventually have a Junior A Tier II league that competes for the national title.

Five Alberta teams left the Alberta Junior Hockey League in January and signed on with the BCHL. They’re having their own playoff and their winner will meet the B.C. champion. No word yet on how the regular-season schedule will break down in the now-20-team league.

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