The B.C. Hockey is giving the pandemic process a safe six extra days by pushing back the start date of its regular season from Dec. 2 to Dec. 8. All remaining exhibition games have been cancelled.
The provincial health orders announced last week, extending to Dec. 7, do no prohibit game play in sports. They restrict travel and bring down the allowable number of spectators from 50 to none. Teams are still allowed to practice and scrimmage.
ViaSport, the non-profit organization that guides amateur sport in the province, has recommended to leagues and athletic organizations that they “err on the side of caution.”
That’s the message the BCHL is adhering to Dec. 7, and perhaps beyond, in terms of game play. If the provincial health order is extended beyond that date, BCHL commissioner Chris Hebb said the league has the option of moving the start date to after Christmas. But he said as soon as feasible post-Dec. 7 is the goal.
The league said it will release a revised schedule in the coming weeks for a Dec. 8 start.
“It is our intention to begin play once the current order expires,” said Hebb, in a statement.
“Our objective from the beginning, when we worked out our COVID-19 safety plan with the provincial health office, was to allow our players to have a season. But we want to make sure it is under the safest conditions possible.”
December provides another challenge.
“Should the season start be delayed past Dec. 8, the players that choose to go home for the holidays, will be required to adhere to travel guidelines, including going into isolation for 14 days prior to joining their team,” said BCHL executive director Steven Cocker.
The BCHL Island Division isn’t greatly affected by last Thursday’s orders because it had already concluded its extended pre-season Island Cup tournament two days earlier with the Nanaimo Clippers beating the Victoria Grizzlies in the championship game at the Q Centre. Because only a few junior hockey leagues have been able to operate, the BCHL pre-season was heavily scouted online by the NHL and NCAA.
“We feel fortunate to have been able to play as much as we have [15 pre-season games],” said Grizzlies GM and head coach Craig Didmon.
“A one-week delay for the regular season is not long. We have injuries and that gives us more time to heal. And we will use the extra practice time as a development phase.”
Asked if the delay pushes beyond the anticipated Dec. 8 start, Didmon said there is no option but to play it as it comes “just like all sports are doing in the rest of the world.”