Decision expected soon regarding B.C. Division of WHL

There could be a decision as soon as next week whether or not to warm up the Zamboni in the B.C. Division of the Western Hockey League.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said Friday that a 65-page proposal to play has been ­submitted to the B.C. ­government by the WHL. Dix said the plan was submitted early this month.

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“It is being reviewed by officials of the provincial health office,” Dix said in response to a question during his televised pandemic media briefing in Vancouver.

“It has been received. We are working on the plan and will be responding to the plan soon.

“I expect they will have recommendations around that to Dr. [Bonnie] Henry next week. And then we will be responding and working with the WHL.”

Provincial health officer Henry, addressing the issue earlier in the week, said she was hopeful “we’ll be able to salvage a season come March or April.”

The B.C. Division, which includes the Victoria Royals, is the only WHL division not set to return.

The government of Saskatchewan gave the go-ahead last week for the five teams in that province, and two from Manitoba, to play in a single-site bubble in Regina beginning March 12. That followed announcements that the five Alberta teams will begin play Feb. 26, in a travel format with no fans in the venues, and the five-team U.S. Division will start on March 19 in a format to be decided. Each team will play 24 games. There will be no playoffs. That leaves only the B.C. Division currently frozen out.

“We are in ongoing discussions with B.C. health authorities and we are in the process of reviewing the details of our return to play proposal,” WHL commissioner Ron Robison told the Times Colonist this week.

“We are hopeful that we can obtain approval soon.”

There has been speculation that the B.C. Division will play in two bubbles, without fans, with the Royals and host Rockets based in Kelowna and the Vancouver Giants, Prince George Cougars and host ­Blazers based in Kamloops.

The WHL suspended play last March in the final week of the 2019-20 regular season and the playoffs were also scrubbed.

Even an abbreviated 2021 season will at least give the graduating 20-year-old ­players some semblance of a final ­season of junior and also ­showcase the 18-year-olds for the 2021 NHL draft.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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