BCHL copes with first COVID infection, influx of WHL players

The B.C. Hockey League’s first COVID-19 infection hangs over the circuit as it continues its extended preseason.

The Victoria Grizzlies were in Port Alberni on Tuesday night meeting the Alberni Valley Bulldogs in a game that was won 5-4 in overtime by the Bulldogs. It was the first BCHL game played after it was announced Sunday that a member of the Surrey Eagles tested positive for the virus. The league said the player has been placed on a 14-day quarantine. All other Eagles players and team staff were tested with negative results, according to the Peace Arch News. One test had yet to be returned. Surrey’s game Sunday against the Langley Rivermen was postponed. Also postponed, out of an abundance of caution, was another game Sunday between the Chilliwack Chiefs and Coquitlam Express. The Chiefs had played the Eagles on Friday.

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“The Island has been successful against COVID in terms of case numbers. But this has happened in our league and it opens eyes and we can use it as a lesson,” said Grizzlies GM and head coach Craig Didmon.

“It brings awareness and tightens everyone up again. We must pay attention to the protocols, such as making sure all scrums after whistles are broken up right away.”

Three regionally-exclusive exhibition tournaments are underway on the Island, Lower Mainland and Interior ahead of the Dec. 1 tentative start date for the BCHL regular season. No fans are allowed in the rinks.

“The players are just excited to be playing hockey,” said ­Didmon.

The Grizzlies have a 6-1-2 record, while the Bulldogs are 4-4-1 after Tuesday’s win.

“We have shown good ­chemistry,” said Didmon.

Do you mess with that? Perhaps. Didmon hinted at a possible signing to be announced today. The major-junior Western Hockey League has granted its players temporary transfers to perform in Junior A or Junior B leagues until WHL training camps are scheduled to open in late December ahead of the start of the regular season on Jan. 8.

A number of WHL players have taken advantage. They include 2019 third-round Montreal Canadiens draft-pick Gianni Fairbrother of the Everett Silvertips, a blue-liner who played on the weekend for the Nanaimo Clippers in BCHL exhibitions against the Cowichan Valley Capitals and Bulldogs. Another Silvertips defenceman, Dylan Anderson, will play for Cowichan Valley. Roman Basran and Cole Schewbius, goaltenders for the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL, went across the bridge to the West Kelowna Warriors of the BCHL.

Is it a matter of keeping up with the Joneses for Didmon? “We like our team but there’s lots of players out there,” said the Grizzlies skipper.

He wouldn’t divulge anything further about a pending signing, but had a prediction about the WHLers flooding the BCHL: “They are elite players but are about to realize how good our league is.”

That was evidenced by the eight BCHLers cited by Central Scouting for the initial players to watch list released Tuesday for the 2021 NHL draft, including projected first-rounder Kent Johnson of the Trail Smoke Eaters and projected second- or third-rounders Jack Bar of the Penticton Vees and Ayrtron Matino of the Chilliwack Chiefs. The WHL, meanwhile, had 36 players listed, including five potential first-rounders. Eighteen of the 22 teams are represented. The Victoria Royals are among the four WHL teams not to have a player on the list.

cdheensaw@timescolonistcom

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