BC Hockey League has announced that the 2020/2021 season will be delayed until December 1 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A shortened regular season, from the normal 60 games, will likely be on offer, pending approval from the Provincial Health Office (PHO).
“We’ve been having discussions with the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture since March around a safe return to play,” stated BCHL commissioner Chris Hebb in a media release. “The PHO has indicated to us that waiting until December gives us the best chance at ensuring we have an uninterrupted season, while also maximizing the amount of regular-season games we’ll be able to play.”
The 2021 Canadian Junior A championship tournament, currently scheduled for May in Penticton, will likely be pushed to June. The regular season was originally scheduled to start in early October.
A schedule will be announced at a later date. The pushback to December 1 aligns with when the NHL’s plans to start its 2020/2021 season.
BC guidelines ban gatherings of more than 50 people, so the BCHL cannot plan for having fans in attendance. Nobody, however, can anticipate what the rules will be in December.
Sources say the league is hoping for eventual socially distanced attendance of between 25 to 50 per cent of arena capacities.
“The reality is that, for us to be able to operate, we need to have fans in our buildings,” stated Graham Fraser, chairman of the BCHL Board of Directors. “It became clear from our discussions with the PHO that the best way to accomplish this would be to delay the start of our season to give them time to assess the effects of a potential second wave of COVID-19 during flu season.”
The 2020 BCHL playoffs were cancelled in March because of the pandemic, just as Cowichan Valley Capitals and Nanaimo Clippers were readying to play the Island Division final. The Island Division consists of the,Capitals, Clippers, Victoria Grizzlies, Alberni Valley Bulldogs and Powell River Kings.
Teams will have the option to hold an extended training camp from September to November, which will include regular on-ice training. Once the province moves into Phase 3 of viaSport BC’s Return to Play model, exhibition competition with other BCHL teams will be expanded in-region.
Training camps will be permitted to begin as early as September 8 under current gathering restrictions which only allow up to 50 people on the ice and in the stands. Teams may also continue to run summer invite camps up until that date.
“The BCHL’s Return to Play Task Force feels that the extended training camp model will give our players an opportunity to stay engaged and continue to develop their game in a safe environment,” stated BCHL executive director Steven Cocker. “Our teams will be providing on-ice and off-ice training resources to continue aiding players to achieve their hockey and education goals and to make sure they are ready to go when the season starts.”
The extended training camps will strictly follow the COVID-19 guidelines set out by viaSport BC.
BCHL venues are also preparing for protocols to be enforced once the buildings are open to fans again.
Once exhibition competition resumes, it will be streamed live on HockeyTV and live-scored on the BCHL website, according to the release. Inter-division competition will be held within regions throughout the BCHL.
~ With files from Times Colonist.