Rich Murphy doesn’t know when he can return to the Silver City, but it isn’t stopping the Trail Smoke Eaters’ owner from building a better team and contributing to the BCHL’s return to play strategy.
The BCHL and its 18 owners/partners reviewed the viaSports return to play strategy and the Provincial Health Officer’s directive and came up with a plan to have teams on the ice by Sept. 8 for camps and the BCHL back in action on Dec. 1.
“My business partners, which are also my competitors, spent a lot of time and effort putting this together, and it’s all subject to what the health authority says we can and cannot do,” Murphy told the Times from his home in Orono, Minn.
With the coronavirus pandemic, Murphy is unable to travel to Canada, yet, is in daily contact with the director of hockey and business operations Craig Clare and head coach and GM Tim Fragle, who have bolstered the Smokies line up with several highend commitments.
The BCHL has yet to release its schedule, but Murphy says the league is planning to play 44 games (normally 58) in the abbreviated season, with a late playoff start.
“We want to have as many games as we possibly can, plus exhibition,” he said. “So we’re hopeful it’ll be around 44 games.”
As for fans, and what the Cominco Arena stands will look like come Dec. 1, that is still up in the air.
“How many? I don’t know. Again it’s out of our hands. We’re hoping that we start the season in December, with as many fans as they’ll allow us to have. It would be nice to start Dec. 1 with at least 25 percent of our seating capacity, and 50 percent thereafter.”
Camps can start as early as Sept. 8, but certainly won’t look the same. Teams will continue to practice and play exhibition games against co-regional teams for three months before the puck will drop on the opening season.
“The time frame for Main Camp is basically Sept. 8 to Nov. 30,” said Murphy. “That’s your main camp. We’re going to be playing games that will be televised on Hockey TV, as soon as we’re able to get into that phase.
“It’s going to be a pretty competitive environment, and it will be really good for the boys to get back at it at minimal cost.”
There will be virtually no gate receipts, minimal concession and merchanising revenue for the first three months, but ice time and gym time will be plentiful with intense exhibition games that should hone the players’ and coaches’ competitive edges to a fine point.
In the larger centres, many of the players have been able to work out on and off the ice, so Murphy doesn’t expect the pandemic to significantly impact the players.
“The rest of the county and even Canada, they’ve been able to train and skate throughout the summer, so I don’t really think it will effect the players at all … they’ll come in for the extended training camp, and then they’re getting another three full months of skating and training.”
With the addition of the Cranbrook Bucks to the BCHL, this year’s realignment to two Conferences has split the league into essentially East and West teams which, coincidentally, will keep Interior teams isolated from the Mainland teams.
Team travel will be restricted to their regional cohorts, and current restrictions allow up to 50 people on the ice and in the stands, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for spectators or revenue.
Rich and his wife Annie purchased the Smoke Eaters in November 2016, renovated the Trail Memorial Centre, revamped the team and its culture, and packed the building every night with family-friendly events and entertainment.
They are passionate hockey fans but also business owners, who, like most, will suffer substantial losses this year. Despite the pandemic, Rich says they are committed to the Smoke Eaters team, its staff, and the Greater Trail community.
“We have a great group of players coming back, a great staff, and a great community so I just want this to get back to normal,” added Murphy. “I don’t know what the new normal is, but it’s got to be better than where we’re at today, that’s for sure.
“We’re planning to play Dec. 1, and we’re hopeful of that. It’s out of our control, but all we can do is what we set out to do, and help players become better players and better individuals, and that’s what we are going to do.”