Powell River Kings are in a holding pattern awaiting word from the provincial government about whether they can start the BC Hockey League season.
Kings’ coach Brock Sawyer said right now the team is waiting for some players to return from holiday breaks and to go through protocols to make a safe return to the team. Sawyer said there are some players flying from other parts of the country and the club is doing its part to make sure they are isolated for the appropriate time and to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms.
He said in terms of getting back to practice, the team does not know what the future holds in terms of a possible playing schedule, but the players in Powell River will skate daily to ensure that when there is an opportunity to play, the team is ready to go.
Sawyer said the provincial order to disallow 19- and 20-year-old players to practice with the team, which has since been withdrawn, made matters difficult for the Kings.
“It was detrimental to the team, but I would also say to the mental health of the players,” said Sawyer. “They have committed to come here to play and leave home for the opportunity to secure a scholarship or an opportunity to play hockey at the post-secondary level. To have that taken away from them, it was tough with their emotional side of things.
“The majority of 19- and 20-year-old players on our team are looking for that opportunity to go post-secondary. To have that rescinded and have them back on the ice – we are really looking forward to having our group back together again.”
In terms of the composition of this year’s team, Sawyer said the Kings have a good core of players from last year who have really bought into what the team has been espousing. Over the break the team has lost some players who have gone to other leagues, but the players staying with the team are young, energetic and eager to learn.
“They are excited to get playing games,” said Sawyer. “I really like our group. There are going to be some pieces added along the way to better our group, but the players here are a group of young men who came here with a goal and a vision and they are sticking to it.”
Sawyer said the Kings are looking forward to the opportunity to play games if the opportunity presents itself. He said there is no set schedule yet for when the team will practice together as a whole group, but the players in town have a two-hour ice time to get back on the ice.
Sawyer is hopeful there will be a season. He said the world junior championship has just successfully concluded and the National Hockey League will be resuming play this month.
“We try to remain positive; we do our part to control the (COVID-19) curve,” he said. “We’re just looking forward to the chance to play.”
BCHL communications coordinator Jesse Adamson said the league is waiting until January 8, which is when the current restrictions on league activities are set to expire.
“We are in a wait and see mode to see if anything is going to be eased that will allow us to continue to pick up where we were back in early November when we were playing within cohorts,” said Adamson. “If we do get that go ahead, we’d be looking to start our regular season as soon as possible. Obviously, it would take a little bit of time to get going if those restrictions were lifted. We would look to start sometime in January if that did happen.”
Adamson said the league is pleased that 19- and 20-year-old players have been given permission to practice with their teammates again. Under previous provincial regulations, players older than 18 were not able to practice with their teams.
“’That was a big hurdle for us at the time, and for our teams as well,” said Adamson. “It didn’t seem to make too much sense to us that half of our players were forced to sit on the sidelines while the other half were on the ice, practicing. We think it was a reaction to some things that went on with some men’s hockey teams but it was resolved and we are very happy about that.”
Adamson said a schedule will be in place if restrictions are lifted.
“Since this whole thing has started, we’ve had to plan for pretty much every scenario,” said Adamson. “We’ve had a sliding schedule, where the original plan was to start in September. Once we knew that wasn’t going to happen, we cut a few games off and moved it to December. Once we weren’t able to do that we began plans for January. Those plans are in place. It’s just a matter of whether we can execute them if the restrictions get lifted.”
Restrictions have been hard for the league and for the teams, said Adamson. The biggest revenue stream is ticket sales and teams have not been able to sell any tickets since the playoffs last year in March, when play ground to a halt due to the pandemic.
While it has been a big hit, the league is totally committed to having a season under the COVID-19 guidelines and the COVID-19 safety plan the league has put in place. Adamson said the league’s teams played about 90 exhibition games under the plan and there were no issues, so the league is confident it can resume successfully.
“We want to give our players as much of a chance as possible to get on the ice and conduct a season,” said Adamson. “We are definitely committed to that.”