The Trail Smoke Eaters hope to hear news this week on a potential return to play. Photo: Jim Bailey

The Trail Smoke Eaters hope to hear news this week on a potential return to play. Photo: Jim Bailey

Smoke Eaters, league still wait for go ahead from province

The BCHL is trying to work out a return to play plan with the province

The Trail Smoke Eaters are hopeful that the BC Hockey League will work out a solution to have a positive end to a non-season.

The league’s board of governors agreed to push a vote on the status of the 2020-21 season to early this week due “to ongoing dialogue between the league office and the office of the provincial health officer.”

Smoke Eaters head coach and GM Tim Fragle said that the league is trying to get approval for its return to play and is more positive after the league decided to postpone its Mar. 4 vote to scrap the season.

Provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry voiced concerns over the plan at a Mar. 2 press conference, and Premier John Horgan said on Mar. 5 that with 17 different teams in play, the BCHL plan is more “complicated” than the Western Hockey League, adding that Dr. Henry was reviewing the BCHL’s plan, with no decision as yet.

The Smoke Eaters coach has met challenge after challenge during the pandemic, from dealing with no games and difficulties recruiting to keeping players engaged on and off the ice the past three months.

If play is allowed, starting a season towards the end of March or even April may also be difficult for teams and the municipalities who support them. Just how late they can keep their ice in may prove problematic, and another question is whether the teams will have to quarantine before they can resume play.

“The only issue for the province would be now that we haven’t played games since the end of November, before you enter into a cohort with two or three other teams, they may request it (a quarantine),” said Fragle. “It’s really up in the air, but if you’re mirroring what the Western Hockey League is doing, they’re not starting until the end of March.

“That puts us another three weeks of practicing, and if we need to isolate and get tested that could push us into April.”

Horgan also said the province is looking “very seriously” at the $9.5 million aid package asked for by both leagues to compensate for no fans in the stands.

“I’m hopeful we’ll have more to say about that in the days ahead,” Horgan told a virtual news conference.