The focus has shifted to other provinces, including B.C., after the government of Saskatchewan announced $4 million of financial aid Friday for its Western Hockey League and Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League teams. Saskatchewan’s five WHL teams will each receive $600,000. The SJHL as a whole will receive $1 million.
The five teams in the WHL’s B.C. Division, which includes the Victoria Royals, and the 17-team B.C. Hockey League, which includes the Island Division, have submitted a joint proposal to the provincial government for a similar kind of financial-aid package.
“Both leagues are looking at potentially returning to play and funding is critical,” said BCHL commissioner Chris Hebb.
Hebb did not divulge the amount being asked from the B.C. government by the BCHL and five WHL teams.
“The junior teams are really in a tough spot,” he said.
“Without funding, they can’t play. We have no revenue sources. We’re just trying to hold it together to get the kids some games in. It’s desperate.”
Ron Walchuk, governor and lead owner of the Victoria Grizzlies, is on the BCHL’s return to play task force.
“The league has a request into the province and the issue is on the table,” said Walchuk.
“We have zero revenues and need all the help we can get. The need is huge. The league is in discussions and we hope our MLAs [in each market] support us. We are persevering and the boys are in good spirits.”
Walchuk noted two provinces have now given financial aid to junior hockey. The Quebec government, citing cultural significance, earlier provided $12-million in pandemic aid — $1 million to each of the 12 provincial-based teams — in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“We are very pleased the Saskatchewan government has decided to support their local WHL clubs and the SJHL through provincial funding,” said Victoria Royals GM and head coach Dan Price.
“This type of funding is needed at this time and will help allow these teams to be able to play this season without fans. Our hope is that the other provincial and state governments will follow suit.”
The Times Colonist sought comment from Melanie Mark, B.C. minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sports.
“Sport plays a vital role in helping our communities heal once the pandemic is over, and the WHL and BCHL hold an important role in the sport landscape of B.C.,” the ministry’s communications department responded, in a statement.
“We will continue to work with the WHL and BCHL and the rest of the sports sector to support them through this time and to be ready to get back to the game as soon as it is safe to do so.”
The BCHL and the five B.C. WHL teams will need something more concrete.
“We’re hoping to hear within the next month,” said Hebb.
The WHL’s season is postponed indefinitely. The BCHL has targeted Feb. 8 for its start but that all depends on what the restrictions will be after the current B.C. health guidelines expire Feb. 5.
“Feb. 6 is a big day for us,” said Hebb, the former national-champion UVic basketball player.
WHL commissioner Ron Robison released a statement about the Saskatchewan government’s financial package: “COVID-19 has had a devastating impact … our WHL clubs are a vital source of community pride and major economic driver in Swift Current, Moose Jaw, Prince Albert, Regina and Saskatoon.”
Robison added the government support will allow those teams to remain viable.
“Our junior hockey teams are a critical part of the cultural fabric and local economies across the province,” said Saskatchewan trade and export development minister Jeremy Harrison, in a statement.
“Necessary restrictions due to COVID-19 have had a significant impact on these leagues and their teams and this support will help them address these financial challenges.”