Eli McKamey, 15, scores exceptional status to play with the B.C. Hockey League

Eli McKamey, 15, made history after the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) granted him exceptional status, giving him early eligibility to join the league.

McKamey, who is based in Cowichan Bay, about 55 kilometres northwest of Victoria, will join the Penticton Vees, about 420 kilometres east of Vancouver, this upcoming season — a year ahead of those in his age group. 

McKamey is no stranger to leaping ahead. He skipped second-year atom hockey, moving to peewee when he was nine. He bypassed Grade 7, partly due to his on-ice ability and his academic excellence. And last year, he jumped into under-18 hockey at Shawnigan Lake School in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League.

“It’s not new,” McKamey told Gregor Craigie, host of CBC’s On The Island. “I’ve done it in the past, so I think that will work for me, moving up again and focusing on the same thing that has made me successful in the past.” 

B.C. is not the only Canadian junior league which grants players exceptional status; the Western Hockey League (WHL), which is a part of the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), can also grant exceptional status to players. 

McKamey’s reason for setting aside the WHL for the time being is quite simple. 

“Coming out of Western Canada, there is a lot of hype around the WHL,” McKamey said, adding he didn’t want to sign away his chance at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) right away. 

Once players sign a contract with a CHL team, their eligibility to play in the NCAA ceases. 

McKamey has a year to develop in the BCHL before deciding which league to pursue. 

“The BCHL gives me a good option to explore both routes before making a decision,” McKamey said. “It’s a hard decision to make as a 15-year-old.”

Should McKamey turn to the WHL, his home-Island Victoria Royals own his rights after selecting him 35th-overall in the 2024 WHL Bantam draft. Knowing Victoria — a short one-hour drive from Cowichan Bay — is a potential landing spot for his son is music to Josh McKamey’s ears. 

“It was probably the best-case scenario for us as parents,” Josh McKamey said. “We feel really comfortable with him going to Penticton, and we think that will be a great situation.

“However, knowing he has an option close to home gives us a lot of peace of mind.” 

Parental support

Like many aspiring hockey players, their journey starts in the household. 

“No way I could have done anything without [my parents] giving me the opportunities to pursue my goal,” McKamey said.

There have been countless road trips and ferry rides, something the McKameys had to be selective about living on Vancouver Island. 

“There’s a ton of tournaments out there, tons of travel, things that are costly,” Josh McKamey said. “Our main focus was to put in the work close to home, go to a few events here and there to test yourself and ensure you’re on the right track.”

An on ice action shot of minor hockey
Eli McKamey has been skipping age groups in hockey for several years now. (Submitted by Arden Gill/Shawnigan Lake School)

That’s meant helping McKamey with his exceptional status application, netting past coaches and teachers as references, and doing interviews with the league. 

“He’s going to do great and be an impact player,” Josh McKamey said. “It’s just exciting to see your son do what he loves to do and take his hockey to the next level.”

A boy sits at a desk to sign a document
Eli McKamey will move to Penticton to play for the Vees at the end of the summer. (Submitted by Mindy McKamey)

Looking to the future

Following the 2024-25 season, McKamey will decide whether to stay in the BCHL and pursue the collegiate route, join the WHL, or go elsewhere to continue chasing his NHL dream. He will take the year to research prospective colleges to find the best fit for him and his family. 

But for now, a move to Penticton awaits at summer’s end. In the meantime, the McKameys will take in the summer months locally, do some camping, and navigate being on the road for hockey.

“We will spend as much time together as a family knowing he’s heading away in the fall,” Josh McKamey said. “We will just be sticking pretty close to home.” 

McKamey will spend time with his family while trying to grow more independent as he prepares to move from the Island to the Interior. 

“I just got to be out there,” he said. 

LISTEN |  Eli McKamey is the first exceptional status player in BCHL

On The Island8:19BCHL’s first-ever exceptional status player is from Cowichan Bay

Gregor Craigie spoke with Eli McKamey, Penticton Vees forward and the first exceptional status player in BCHL history. 


Posted in CBC