BCHL deals with COVID scare, influx of WHL players

The B.C. Hockey League pre-season, featuring a COVID scare and an influx of Western Hockey League players, has been many things. Uneventful isn’t one of them.

It continues tonight with the Victoria Grizzlies taking on the Nanaimo Clippers at the Q Centre. Fans are not allowed into the arena. The Grizzlies are 6-1-2 while the Clippers were 5-3 heading into Friday night’s game against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs (4-4-1) that was in progress at press time.

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The BCHL said the Surrey Eagles’ COVID situation — two games were cancelled last weekend due to an Eagles player testing positive — was an isolated one-off.

“After the games were cancelled, all [other] members of the Surrey Eagles were tested for COVID-19 and all came back negative,” the league said in a statement Friday. “The player in question was in contact with a person outside of his hockey circle who showed symptoms early in the week and ended up testing positive.”

The league said it would remain vigilant. “The BCHL continues to work with PRIVIT online medical database for players to perform daily COVID-19 screening tests,” the league said.

“So far, there has been just the one isolated positive test, but the league and its teams will continue to monitor the situation closely with daily screening as we move through the 2020-21 season.”

The unnamed positive Eagles player is under quarantine. It is a lesson being well absorbed by the rest of the league.

“We don’t expect our players to go into total hibernation. But we’ve told them to be careful, keep a low profile, stay out of harm’s way and stay smart,” said Clippers head coach and GM Darren Naylor.

The BCHL is coping with the flood of major-junior players into Junior A leagues. The WHL gave leave last week for its players to skate in any junior league ahead of the tentative start of the WHL season on Jan. 8. There is concern about the ice time during games that will be lost by some of the extant BCHL players to the incoming WHLers.

“The BCHL and its competition committee have been in discussions around how to handle the potential influx of other junior-aged players to the league if their respective league doesn’t operate during the 2020-21 season,” the BCHL said.

“In an effort to protect roster spots for current BCHL players, the league has implemented roster rules that will only allow a limited amount of major-junior players to be permitted on a given roster.”

The BCHL did not stipulate the upper number limit of that restriction. BCHL Island Division teams have added several WHL players.

Tonight’s game will feature hometown Victoria forward Payton Mount and defenceman Luke Bateman, both of the WHL Seattle Thunderbirds, skating for the Grizzlies against 2019 NHL third-round Montreal Canadiens draft-pick Gianni Fairbrother, a WHL Everett Silvertips defenceman playing for Nanaimo.

“We’re not bringing in just anybody from the WHL,” said Naylor, who noted he has connections to Fairbrother from Burnaby Winter Club youth hockey days. “If his league [WHL] starts, he will be gone. If not, we will have him for the rest of the season. It’s a risk worth the return. Playing against Gianni is not going to be an easy night for the other teams’ top forwards.”

The extended BCHL pre-season runs until the tentative start of the regular season on Dec. 1.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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