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‘We’ve been waiting all year’: BCHL season set, Victoria Grizzles start April 2

Grizzlies GM and head coach Craig Didmon: “We’ve been waiting all year for this. Nobody is complaining.”
Photograph By BRUCE STOTESBURY, TIMES COLONIST

Cleve Dheensaw / Times Colonist
MARCH 23, 2021 10:57 PM

The Victoria Grizzlies will travel the farthest to play in the B.C. Hockey League Island Division season, to take place at Weyerhaeuser Arena in Port Alberni beginning April 2, but they are not carping about it. Far from it. They couldn’t be happier to spend more than 100 hours of bus travel time over the Hump through May 9. Not after the hundreds of hours of planning it took with the provincial health office just to get the BCHL season okayed.

“We’ve been waiting all year for this. Nobody is complaining,” said Grizzlies GM and head coach Craig Didmon.

The BCHL schedule was released Tuesday. Sixteen teams will play 20 games each in five regional pods located in Port Alberni, Chilliwack, Coquitlam, Penticton and Vernon. Teams will only play against teams in their own pod. The Grizzlies, Nanaimo Clippers, Cowichan Valley Capitals and host Bulldogs will play in the Port Alberni hub. The fifth team in the Island Division, Powell River Kings, have been placed in the Coquitlam pod. No fans will be allowed in the venues.

The Grizzlies will play back-to-back games on five occasions, each with an evening game followed by a matinee, necessitating hotel stays in Port Alberni.

There will be only two dark days league-wide during the compressed 38-day BCHL season.

“Teams are going to have to play their bench … play everybody,” said Didmon.

BCHL players entered a 14-day quarantine period on March 13, after which they will be tested for COVID-19, and then allowed to enter training camp to prepare for the season.

“It’s important we look after ourselves during this process,” said Didmon.

The winding path to this point is not lost on anybody involved. Nobody wants to jeopardize it now.

“It has been a long road, but we’re thrilled to finally announce our season schedule,” said BCHL executive director Steven Cocker, in a statement.

“Our coaches and players have spent the past seven months focusing on on-ice and off-ice development and now we are able to provide them with a chance to play meaningful games to give them the NHL and NCAA exposure they deserve.”

There are five games on the April 2 opening night, including the Grizzlies against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs. The Clippers open against the Grizzlies and the Capitals against the Bulldogs on April 3. The season concludes May 9. The league has yet to say if the five pod winners will advance to a playoff tournament. That will likely depend on the health guidelines in effect at the time.

The B.C. Division of the Western Hockey League, meanwhile, has two hubs in Kelowna and Kamloops and the five teams will travel between them to play. The Victoria Royals are based in Kelowna and open Friday against the host Rockets. Each team will play 24 games through May 12 with no spectators in attendance. There will be no playoffs in the WHL.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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