Several BC Hockey League teams began playing exhibition games last weekend, but not the Powell River Kings.
While training camp is underway for the local junior hockey team, players will not experience game action until November.
Kings’ general manager Chad van Diemen said COVID-19 has complicated scheduling for the regular season and exhibition games, but some of the teams within the Island Division have not helped the situation.
With mandated rules that involve a maximum of four teams in cohort, one of the five Island Division teams was going to be left out, according to van Diemen. Victoria, Nanaimo, Alberni Valley and Cowichan Valley formed a four-team cohort and will play 12 to 14 games each over an extended exhibition schedule. Only Cowichan agreed to play the Kings, once in Powell River and five times in Duncan.
“Cowichan actually helped us out, but Nanaimo, Alberni and Victoria totally left us high and dry and the league just allowed it, and that is our beef,” said van Diemen. “The league refused to help us and our players out.”
COVID-19 has impacted all sporting groups and organizations, and the BCHL is no different, according to league communications coordinator Jesse Adamson.
“We don’t actually make the schedule for the preseason,” said Adamson. “That is up to teams to decide amongst themselves. We set the regular season but when it comes to preseason, those are done by the teams.”
With new rules and mandated cohorts, van Diemen said the league should be more involved during special circumstances to allow all teams to prepare for the regular season fairly. He said the Kings brought the matter up with the BCHL and the league took a stance: we’ve never booked exhibition games and we’re not going to start now.
“How as a league can you let that happen?” said van Diemen. “These guys want to be considered a professional league; professional leagues don’t leave one member out to dry, ever, exhibition or regular season. We feel abandoned.”
Adamson said the cohorts, mandated by provincial health authorities and viaSport, have created tough situations throughout the league.
“It is definitely a unique situation; only being able to play three other teams, that has created a difficult situation for everyone.” said Adamson. “The other thing is we have different teams starting their training camps at different times. A lot of teams have already started, some are starting in mid-October, some even later than that.”
van Diemen said with colleges ready to start watching games and recruiting, his players don’t get to play on Hockey TV.
“They don’t get the opportunity to be seen by colleges until well over a month after other players and that’s the problem I have, for our players and their families who are equals in this league as partners,” he added. “Our goal is to help move these guys onto college hockey and they now have limited viewings.
“There was no say in that, there was no choice of that; it was just ‘here is what you guys get, take it or leave it.’”
Cowichan will leave its current cohort on October 24, then sit out a mandated two-week period before joining a two-team cohort with the Kings. The first of the six games will be played in Duncan on November 8. Powell River will host Cowichan in the lone exhibition game at Hap Parker Arena on November 14. Kings will travel for more games in Duncan on November 20, 21, 25 and 28.
“We told the league someone is going to get left out of this and apparently they were okay with it because nothing was done; this was predicted and nothing was done about it, or not enough,” said van Diemen. “The end result was us having to work with one team. Thankfully Cowichan did, but it shouldn’t come down to that.”
BCHL is targeting early December for the start of the regular season. Adamson said it will be a challenge putting together the regular season schedule as well.
“That is why everything is going to be super regional this year,” he added. “The cohorts are something put in place by the provincial health authorities and viaSport BC, so we have to follow those strict guidelines. At some points during the season we’re going to have to rotate a team out of a cohort and rotate another one in and with that they have to have a quarantine period as well, so it causes a pretty difficult scheduling model.”
van Diemen said the Kings have now digested and processed all the information regarding the exhibition schedule and have a plan moving forward the organization is comfortable with.
“In those times it was heated and it was pretty frustrating,” he added. “All we can do is move forward with the information we have at the time, and that is what we did.”