The Trail Smoke Eaters and Prince George Spruce Kings will face off against each other in the same conference next season, as the BCHL announced its realignment platform for 2020-21. Jim Bailey photo.

BCHL announces realignment

Smoke Eaters director of hockey operations weighs in on BCHL’s plan for two nine-team conferences

The BC Hockey League announced their new look on Tuesday.

As a result of the expansion Cranbrook Bucks beginning their inaugural campaign next year, the Board voted in favour of changing to a two-conference system with nine teams on each side.

“For us it’s great,” said Trail Smoke Eaters director of business operations, Craig Clare. “To get Cranbrook on board, they’re going to be a rival and partner of ours and they’ll be our closest team as well. And bringing another team in, I think it was important to get away from the three divisions.”

The Coastal Conference will consist of the current Island and Mainland Division teams, minus the Prince George Spruce Kings, while the Interior Conference will see Cranbrook added as well as Prince George.

“With Cranbrook coming into the league next year, the league and the Board recognized the need to alter our current divisional alignment,” BCHL Executive Director Steven Cocker said in a release. “The new format makes the most sense geographically and is a logical step for the future of the BCHL.”

The league has also announced that it is moving from a 58-game schedule to 54, as well as a later start date in September.

“The decision to reduce our games next season to 54 was a difficult move, but with our league mandate around player safety, we see this as what’s best for the development of our players,” said Cocker. “This will also result in fewer three-in-three weekends and proper rest between games in order to maximize time for practice and recovery.

“Another important component of the schedule was getting out of the month of August. Our camps will now open in early September with season openers at the end of the month. We feel this will best serve our athletes in their out-of-season development.”

Clare said that with the new alignment, travel will also be a bit friendlier. Trail will play more games against it’s closest rivals Cranbrook and Wenatchee, while the trios of Penticton, West Kelowna and Merritt, and Vernon, Salmon Arm, and Prince George will play more games than against the other Conference teams.

“It’ll be stacked so that we play them seven times in the year, and the other teams in our division will be five or six,” said Clare. “Those three teams will play each other more than the other teams in the division.”

As for the playoffs, the top eight teams from each conference will make the postseason, for a balanced four rounds in each Conference.

“I think it needed to be done,” added Clare. “Three divisions in any sport is tough when you get into a playoff system, you have wild cards coming over. Three just didn’t work. I understand how it got there, with the geography of B.C. and trying to save some money on travel, but I think it’s good now that we have Cranbrook we can make two nine-team divisions. It just makes it look cleaner and easier for people to understand.”

On top of the changes to next season, the Board also voted to slightly alter the playoff format for this season by having the two crossover teams re-seed in the Interior Division based on their point totals, rather than being put into the seventh and eight slots automatically.

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