The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) followed the lead of the BCHL and will be seeking financial assistance from the provincial and federal governments.
In light of the negative impact being felt by its 20 member teams due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the KIJHL, which consists of 13 community-owned teams, including the Beaver Valley Nitehawks, and seven privately-owned clubs, has already experienced heavy financial losses due to the virus and expects continued challenges when play resumes.
The league is looking to the provincial government for support, and like the BCHL, hopes to tap into a program announced by the federal government that has earmarked $500 million towards arts, culture and sport organizations.
“Our league has been operating for more than 50 years and our teams make a huge impact in their communities, both on and off the ice,” says KIJHL commissioner Jeff Dubois in a release. “The reality we’re facing now is that without some financial assistance from the government, that may not be able to continue. When it comes to quantifying the negative financial impact on our league and teams, it’s clear we’re feeling the effects in a number of different areas.”
After sweeping the Castlegar Rebels in Round 1, the Beaver Valley Nitehawks were two games into their Neil Murdoch Division final against the Nelson Leafs, and ready to take to the ice for Game 3, when the season was abruptly cancelled.
General Manager Jamie Cominotto said the Nitehawks, along with the seven other remaining playoff teams, lost potential revenue from the cancelled playoffs, in addition to missed camps and summer bus rentals. However, his main concern was for the individuals, businesses and organizations that have supported the Hawks for many years and have faced layoffs, shutdowns, and financial stress.
“There are a few things we usually do that are preventing us from making money, and hindering our bottom line, but it’s such a tough situation,” said Cominotto. “Everyone is hurting from this, and sponsorships is such a big part of our organization. But how do we go to (ask) local business owners to donate money or sponsor the Nitehawks when they’ve been shut down for the last few months.”
The Nitehawks coaching staff is also currently in holding mode. B.V. has a strong network of scouts throughout western Canada, but at the time, few options for scouting or recruiting are available, and whether players from other regions, like Alberta or the U.S., will even be allowed to come to BC is still uncertain.
“There are so many question marks that we can’t answer. Alberta’s numbers are going up, ours are going down. Are we going to be able to bring players in from Alberta, and are returning players going to be able to come back?
“We’re fortunate that we have a lot of players from BC, but it will come down to what players will be able to do. And what does our schedule look like for Spokane?”
“We have an idea on a few prospects and what we want to do, but again what is our roster going to look like, if there is no travel provincially, what do we do? These are questions that nobody can answer at this point.”
If there is a bright spot for the Nitehawks, it’s the many dedicated volunteers and billets that help out with selling game tickets and merchandise, 50/50 raffles, the meat draw, concessions, and much more.
“We have so many volunteers and they are fantastic,” said Cominotto. “That’s what we rely on every year. I’m not even sure how private owners do it.”
Cominotto met with Nitehawks head coach Terry Jones through the online portal, Zoom, and discussed the probabilities and ‘what ifs’ regarding the make up of the team, a starting date, and possible schedule beginning in September or October, and even more concerning – how teams will operate with potentially reduced or no fans in the stands.
“If they say you can play hockey, but you can’t have crowds of more than 50 people, what’s the point?” said Cominotto.
According to Dubois, KIJHL teams have begun the process of tightening budgets ahead of the 2020/21 season, mindful of what is likely to amount to unprecedented lost revenue from limited ticket sales and decreased sponsorship.
“When you put all of that together, the impact at the individual team level could very well be in the tens of thousands of dollars,” says Dubois. “And when you factor in all 20 teams in our league, it wouldn’t be a stretch to project an overall impact of a million dollars or more.”
Beyond the troubling financial outlook, the KIJHL is keeping close tabs on the latest information from Hockey Canada and the relevant health authorities to determine when its teams can get back to on-ice activities. The league hopes the season can start on time, but only if it is safe to do so. Dubois reiterates that the health and safety of the league’s players, staff, volunteers, sponsors and fans is the No. 1 priority in every decision the KIJHL makes.
“We’re hopeful that we can proceed with a full 2020/21 season beginning in September, but there are a number of hurdles to clear before we get to that point,” Dubois added. “We’re thinking positively, because we know everybody involved with our league wants to be back on the ice, but we’re also planning ahead in case the season is delayed, or the financial challenges put us in a spot where plans have to change on the fly.”
As for the Nitehawks, in the age of uncertainty all they can do is prepare as best they can, and like everyone else – remain hopeful for a 2020-21 hockey season.
“It’s just a snowball effect, and we’re no different and obviously we’re going to be hurt from this,” added Cominotto. “(Nitehawks VP) Jake (Swanson) and (president) Steve (Piccolo) have put forth a great plan to where we’ll still be operating, and, whenever the season starts up again, we’ll be ready to go.
“But it’s like we’re trying to predict whats coming, but nobody knows.”
With files from KIJHL communications head Emanuel Sequeira.