BCHL devises alternate plans for season

The B.C. Hockey League announced Friday it will look for alternative ways to fashion the 2020-21 season if fans are not allowed in the stands due to COVID-19.

“It’s not Plan A, that’s for sure,” said Victoria Grizzlies governor and co-owner Ron Walchuk.

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“But we’ve got to work with what we’ve got in this situation.”

“We operate on advertising sponsorships and ticket sales and none of that is happening. Everybody is hurting.”

The Grizzlies have produced the likes of Stanley Cup-champion Tyler Bozak, Dallas Stars captain and Olympic-champion Jamie Benn and first-round NHL draft pick and Colorado Avalanche prospect Alex Newhook in their 26 seasons of operation.

“We’re trying to keep players on the ice,” said Walchuk.

“We’re trying to keep it going.”

One way would be to increase the playing fees charged to players.

“Maybe that’s the only way we can do it without gate receipts,” said Walchuk.

The BCHL has requested 25 per cent capacity in arenas for the regular season, which is tentatively set to start Dec. 1. The league said Friday if that request is not approved by the Provincial Health Office, the league will “move forward with a model of reduced games without fans and will rely on player fees along with sponsorship and government support to fund the season.”

It’s about providing opportunities for junior hockey players, the league insisted.

“Our main objective remains to play a season, no matter what, but our original goal of starting in December with 25 per cent capacity in our buildings is in jeopardy,” said BCHL board of governors chair Graham Fraser, in a statement.

“This new scenario allows us to have a fall-back plan if that does not occur. Even if we end up going with the alternative, we may have the opportunity to introduce fans into the stands later in the season and into the playoffs, which would, in turn, reduce costs for the players and their families.”

BCHL training camps have opened with the Nanaimo Clippers and West Kelowna Warriors the first to start this week. Grizzlies camp opens Monday with the first ice sessions Tuesday at the Q Centre. Players have already begun arriving.

“The fact that we are prepared to play a season without fans does not mean we no longer require financial support from the government,” warned BCHL commissioner Chris Hebb, in a statement.

“Player fees will give our teams the ability to survive, but our owners are preparing to take a financial hit to ensure we get to play regular-season games in 2020-21,” added Hebb, the former national champion basketball player with the University of Victoria Vikes.

“If anything, this only increases our need for corporate and government support. For the first time in our 60-year league history, we’re asking for players to pay an amount beyond their billet fees. This is solely caused by COVID-19 and we plan on going back to business as usual next season.”

The Grizzlies will open with a “pre-exhibition set” Sept. 25 in Nanaimo against the Clippers followed by a game Sept. 26 against the Clips at the Q Centre. That will be followed by the pre-season Island Cup tournament Oct. 2 to Nov. 27 featuring the Grizzlies, Clippers, Cowichan Valley Capitals, Alberni Valley Bulldogs and Powell River Kings.

The five teams in the Island Cup will be put into two cohort groups of two and three teams to be decided. There will be a two-week quarantine break before teams switch over to play teams from the other cohort group.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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