The Beaver Valley Nitehawks won’t be celebrating their 39th year in the KIJHL.
Nitehawks General Manager Jamie Cominotto announced the team’s decision to withdraw from the 2020-21 KIJHL season after meeting with players last week.
“Our players decided they were not going to play, and we don’t have time to replace 16 players,” said Cominotto. “We had a zoom team meeting, and we explained the league plan for play, as well as the costs for them to play. The team fees went up a little bit, and obviously we were unable to help with the billeting financially, because we just don’t have the money.”
ViaSport rolled out Phase 3 of the return to sport plan last month, but it limits hockey leagues to play in cohorts of four teams. In addition, the KIJHL adjusted its start time to Nov. 13 with a 30-game schedule, but no room for fans, thus few opportunities to generate revenue.
“So adding all the costs up, the players felt that playing the same four teams over the course of the season, it just didn’t appeal to them.”
The Nitehawks GM along with coach Terry Jones, vice-president Jake Swanson and president Steve Piccolo met with KIJHL president Jeff Dubois on Tuesday, Sept. 2 to deliver the news.
Cominotto says the league has been diligent in trying to adapt and go ahead with a season, but a lack of direction from Hockey Canada and BC’s governing body viaSport has been frustrating.
The KIJHL originally announced an Oct. 2 start date, but pushed it to Nov. 13, while its Jr. B counterparts the Pacific Junior Hockey League (PJHL) pencilled in a Sept. 29 start date following its AGM on July 28. The Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (VIJHL) started camps the last week of August, and offered four scenarios inlcuding an unlikely Sept. 7 start date, as well as Oct. 12, Nov. 16 and Dec. 14.
“I think the league is doing the best they can with the information given. But I don’t think anyone is willing to take responsibility if there is an outbreak. And that’s probably apparent from Hockey Canada, they pushed it right down to the provinces and the provinces pushed it down to the leagues. It seems like no one is willing to step up, and I don’t blame them, but there has to be some sort of direction.”
The BCHL set a firm Dec. 1 date and the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) kicked off a ‘Developmental Season’ on Aug. 31, but have yet to announce a starting date. The major junior WHL changed its date last month from October to Dec. 4, to coincide with the NHL’s Dec. 1 date, and the AHL and ECHL on Dec. 4.
To make matters even more complicated, many of the KIJHL players plan to attend Jr. A camps, which start this week but could potentially go until December; so finalizing a roster is even more of a challenge for Jr. B teams like the Hawks.
The Beaver Valley executive and coaching staff took drastic steps in an effort to keep the team going. Coaches were willing to relinquish all wages for the upcoming season, but they did not want to download all expenses onto the players, explained Cominotto. In addition, asking local families to house billets from out of province was another concern.
“Relying on players flipping the bill, we’ve never been that type of organization. And you never know what players and their families’ financial situations are, if they have been working, or haven’t. There are so many things that come into play.
“This has been the hardest week of my General Manager career. I spoke with Terry this morning again and you just feel sick, we don’t have the billet homes that we usually have. And everyone feels different about COVID and I said all along you can’t blame any one person, everyone has different circumstances, and that’s just the way it is.”
Nitehawks players that still want to play will be entered into a dispersal draft on Friday, where KIJHL teams will be able to pick up their rights.
The Nitehawks won their 14th Murdoch Division regular season title last season, and were playing for the playoff Division championship against the Nelson Leafs when the season ended in March due to COVID.
“It wasn’t an easy decision and it wasn’t taken lightly we’ve been stretched and made concessions all over the place trying to make it work, but at the end of the day, when 16 of 25 players opt out, it’s really tough to go forward.”
The 100-Mile House Wranglers also opted out of the season due to financial reasons, while the Spokane Braves can’t participate due to the U.S.-Canada border closure. The KIJHL announced that it will start its season with 17 teams.
The teams within each cohort will change at various points over three stages, with the regular season ending Saturday, Feb. 26. The 2021 postseason format for the Teck Cup will be announced at a later date.