As I enter my 24th and final season with the WHL, it is time to reflect on my tenure with this great League. I can honestly say it has been a very rewarding experience in every respect and this is largely due to the tremendous support and cooperation I have received over the years from the Board of Governors, our member Clubs and our WHL Office management and staff. We all take great pride in the WHL being regarded as a world-leading development league and this is a direct result of everyone associated with the League making the commitment to operate at the highest standard possible.
During my time in the WHL, our member Clubs have focused on continually improving the player experience. From the outset, we established three key objectives for the WHL Player Experience: firstly, to continue providing a world-class hockey development experience for the top young prospects; secondly, to continue offering one of the most comprehensive education and scholarship programs in North America; and thirdly, to deliver an industry-leading respect education program to ensure we maintain a safe and positive environment at all times.
Without question, our Clubs have delivered on these objectives for the WHL Player Experience, particularly when you consider the WHL – for close to 60 years – has been a leading producer of talent for the NHL and Canada’s National Teams; while over the past 30 years setting the standard academically with over 7,500 graduates having accessed WHL Scholarships representing an investment of over $35 million; and finally, for over 20 years, the WHL, in partnership with the Respect Group and Canadian Red Cross, has developed the Respect in Hockey program – the most comprehensive safeguarding system in the game today. All of this could not have been accomplished without the extraordinary commitment WHL Club ownership make on an ongoing basis to delivering a world-class experience for our players.
To further enhance the player experience and fan experience, the WHL and our Clubs have partnered with our local communities to upgrade arena facilities throughout the League to the highest standards. Over the past 20 years, over $400 million has been invested by our communities in either the construction of new state-of-the-art arenas or significant renovations of existing facilities to meet WHL standards for player safety and entertainment purposes.
The most gratifying aspect of being part of the WHL is that our Clubs not only produce highly-talented hockey players but more importantly, exceptional young men. Whether our players advance in the game and pursue a professional hockey career or through the WHL Scholarship program move on to successful business careers, the WHL is assisting all of our players in achieving their goals.
The WHL has experienced remarkable growth over the past two decades with 22 teams strategically positioned throughout Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest and a fanbase that continues to grow each season. None of this would be possible without the support of our local fans, media, broadcasters, and corporate partners in all of our markets.
In closing, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to my family, the Board of Governors, our member Club staff, WHL management and staff, players, officials, our corporate partners, broadcasters, media and fans for the tremendous support I have received during my time as Commissioner of the Western Hockey League.
The future is very bright for the WHL. After the great fortune of witnessing a generational talent the calibre of Connor Bedard, WHL fans everywhere can’t wait to see the next wave of WHL talent, which will be unveiled this season and in the years to come. Let’s drop the puck and enjoy another great season of WHL hockey!