The Trail Smoke Eaters may be back in action in the fall.
The BCHL submitted a return-to-play plan to the province, and the league’s commissioner Chris Hebb appeared on Global News Sunday morning announcing that the 18-team league expects to have a 2020-21 season.
“We have a significant financial impact, and social and cultural impact on those communities,” said Hebb. “Not to mention the jobs that we create by having the league, so we’re expecting to play in the fall.”
The plan includes potential scenarios and protocol for when teams and fans are permitted to return to the rinks.
“It’s going to be impossible for us to return to play without people in the seats. We are not like professional sport where you can rely on television revenue.
“We are going to need to have people in the seats, but we’re a long way from the start of our season and we may have some flexibility around our start time as well.”
The league has come up with a sliding starting schedule that includes a number of different dates, depending on when it is given the go ahead.
An essential element of the BCHL startup is to have its own chief medical officer in place who will communicate with the provincial health officer and team doctors on how best to protect players and officials.
Also, the BCHL is talking to arena managers and various municipalities regarding social distancing at hockey games, and how different strategies can be implemented.
“As far as player safety and fan safety, we went into great detail in the document that we forwarded to the ministry and they are reviewing.
“We would put forward to the province the idea of having a significantly reduced audience base, even down to 25 per cent capacity to begin with.”
The Junior A league, like the Junior B leagues before them, would also consider going to full face shields if required.
As for the health of the league, and whether teams can survive the shut down, Hebb was cautiously optimistic.
“It’s a huge economic hit for our teams and it’s in the neighbourhood of $3 million already, and that will mount if we’re unable to start on time,” said Hebb. “We just had our board meeting and there wasn’t one team that said, ‘I’m out.’ They are waiting because I think by August we’ll know a heck of a lot more on what the return to play protocols are and we’ll see then if we have any teams that bow out, but right now everybody is in.”
Hockey Canada also announced over the weekend that the Hockey Canada Registry (HCR) will open today, as scheduled. This means that CJHL teams will be allowed to start making acquisitions to build their rosters for the 2020-21 season.
“Obviously, this isn’t a normal offseason, but with the HCR opening up on schedule, it will be business as usual for our teams as they prepare for the 2020-21 season,” said BCHL Executive Director Steven Cocker. “The BCHL is fully planning on playing this fall, as soon as we receive approval from Hockey Canada and the Health Authorities.
“The opening of the HCR is another step in the right direction for a return to play. Our Return-to-Play Task Force has been working diligently to ensure we have not left a single stone unturned as it relates to contingency plans.”
The league commissioner was not as confident in April when uncertainty reigned and the BC junior A league sought financial assistance from provincial and federal governments due to revenue lost with the cancellation of playoffs.
According to Hebb, the BCHL sought funding from the Federal Government but was unsuccessful, as most of the $72 million available for amateur sports was targeted for provincial and national sports organizations.
“We were not eligible so once the Federal Government money was not available to us we got into a discussion with the province to see if there was a way we could get help there,” said Hebb. “The province was very receptive … we had a 40 minute call with the Premiere and he was fantastic.”
Lisa Beare, minister of sport, was also upbeat when speaking with the BCHL and Hebb said that they will talk again in the coming weeks.