Junior hockey teams hail decision to let older players return to practice

What many in sports saw as a gap in logic has been rectified. Nineteen and 20-year-old junior hockey players are again allowed to practice with their younger teammates.

The previous provincial ruling had set the cut-off at athletes 18-and-younger being allowed to train with a team but not those older. That effectively severed junior rosters in half, with the 19- and 20-year-olds not able to train with the 16- to 18-year-olds. The revised rules announced Monday by viaSport, which administers sport in B.C., have set the new cut-off age at 22.

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“This is great news around the B.C. Hockey League. We can now practice again in a bubble as a full team,” said Craig Didmon, head coach and GM of the Victoria Grizzlies.

“We can move forward as a team now. It’s a good step forward and takes us closer to the start of a regular season.”

Both the BCHL and Western Hockey League seasons, the latter including the Victoria Royals, are postponed indefinitely. Games being banned was one thing, but the previous health order of Dec. 4 complicated matters even further in terms of training. It read: “Adults [including players over 18 on junior teams] may not participate with their teams at this time.”

The measure was aimed at adult team sports after an oldtimers hockey team from the Interior went to Alberta to play and returned with several players infected with COVID-19. The 18-year-old cut-off baffled those in junior hockey, with many coaches, managers and administrators resenting that their players were being lumped in with beer leaguers. The new rules make a sharp distinction.

Adult sports are now referred to as “group” sports, the latter which are still limited. Adults cannot train in groups of four or more and they must remain in the same four-person cohort and be at a distance of three metres from one another.

Exempt are registered national team athletes training in Greater Victoria, Richmond Oval and Whistler for the delayed Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics next summer and the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Also exempt are varsity athletes, meaning University of Victoria Vikes, Camosun College Chargers and VIU Mariners athletes 22-and-older can train with the rest of their teammates.

“That is fantastic news for us. I think it’s a fair exemption,” said Camosun men’s volleyball coach Charles Parkinson.

“At this point, it’s all about preparation for September.”

The new regulations run through Jan. 8. The current provincial ban on games will be re-assessed at that point.

Didmon said he remains cautiously optimistic a BCHL season can be played in 2021: “Fingers crossed. At least now we will be able to get our preparation in as a full team.”


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