The Bellingham Blazers announced that they will be moving to the Western States Hockey League after advancing to the championship series of the Northern Pacific Hockey League in each of their first four years of existence, according to a press release.
“The direction of the league combined with the increased level of play and competition influenced our decision,” Blazers coach and assistant general manager Mark Collins said in a release. “This opens up so many more options for us moving forward, from recruiting to playing.”
The WSHL will open its 23rd season in September and is in its sixth year sanctioned by the Amateur Athletic Union and is a member of the United Hockey Union. It is a Junior A Tier II league that has grown from 14 to 30 teams in states west of the Mississippi River the past five years. The league was the first junior hockey league on the west coast. Last year the league played a 52-game regular-season schedule.
The Blazers’ closest competition will be the Seattle Totems, who joined the league five years ago, but there are also teams in Oregon, Idaho, Montana and California. The Northwest Division in 2015 included the Butte (Mont.) Cobras, Idaho (McCall) Junior Steelheads, Missoula (Mont.) Maulers, Seattle, Southern Oregon (Medford) Spartans, Tahoe (Calif.) Icemen, Vancouver (Wash.) Rangers and Whitefish (Mont.) Wolverines.
Bellingham lost to 3-0 to the Wenatchee Wolves in the NPHL Cascade Cup earlier this spring after winning the league title in 2013 and 2014. Idaho is the defending WSHL champion, after winning the Thorne Cup earlier this month.