Cleve Dheensaw / Times Colonist
NOVEMBER 5, 2020 09:22 PM
Victoria Grizzlies general manager and head coach Craig Didmon says his team is rounding into form for a December start.
The pandemic has hip-checked the B.C. Hockey League schedule and sent almost half of it flying over the boards.
The league announced Thursday that teams will play 32 regular-season games, down from the normal 60, from early December through March. The regular season usually begins in September.
“The fact is we are not starting until December, so we are having to jam in a season, that’s for sure,” BCHL commissioner Chris Hebb said by phone.
The situation is alleviated somewhat by an extended 16-game preseason that is being heavily scouted by the NHL and NCAA. Provincial rules allow for only up to 50 spectators in the rink and the Victoria Grizzlies, 7-1-2 atop the Coastal Division preseason standings, are making those few count. Five of those allowed in Saturday, for the exhibition game against the Alberni
Valley Bulldogs at The Q Centre, will be NHL scouts, said Grizzlies GM and head coach Craig Didmon.
“That shows you the magnitude of these [exhibition] games in terms of careers,” he said.
“We are [one of] the few hockey leagues running in North America right now and our players are getting tons of attention. It doesn’t feel like preseason, it feels like the regular season. We’re disappointed we can’t have fans watch us live. But we are excited our players are getting a chance to play and develop. This pre-season is allowing teams to build and they will be in fine form to start the regular season. The Island Division is very strong.”
The regular-season schedule will be released in the coming weeks. The extended preseason, which began last month, is being played without fans in the arenas. That will not change, at least for the start, of the regular season. The league did not announce a playoff format.
The Island Division teams will only play each other in the regular season, as they are doing in the preseason. Because current provincial guidelines allow a maximum of four teams per cohort group, the five-team Island Division will feature respective cohorts of two and three teams playing each other, followed by two-week quarantine breaks, after which the teams will rotate into new cohorts. The clubs in the two-team cohort will play each other between six to eight consecutive times.
The Wenatchee Wild from Washington state, the BCHL’s lone American franchise, will be initially excluded from the regular-season schedule due to the closure of the Canada-U.S. border.
“Their plan remains to continue training camp south of the border and play intra-squad exhibition games until they are able to travel north to play against BCHL competition,” the league said, in a statement.
“If the border opens early in 2021, or before the regular season commences, the league has plans in place to add the Wild into the schedule to participate in the 2020-21 regular season and playoffs. Alternative planning will continue to take place.”
The league’s request for financial support from the provincial government, meanwhile, is still awaiting a decision.
“We strongly believe the BCHL should get some support,” said Hebb.
“We have always been self-sustaining but now we can’t go to the traditional methods of getting funding [ticket sales and sponsorships]. We were speaking with the government, well before the provincial election, to make our case. With the recent election, our request was understandably [put on hold].”
The league said it expects to pick up those conversations once the full results of the election are in.
The Quebec government gave $12-million to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, $1-million to each team based in that province, because it believes the league is culturally significant. The six Atlantic Canada teams in the QMJHL have not received government funds from their provinces.
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