Plenty of variables as Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League plans for start of season

Like all sports leagues around the world, the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League is grappling with the vagaries of the virus. The VIJHL announced its 2020-21 season could begin as early as Sept. 7 or as late as Dec. 14.

The league presented four potential scenarios: A Sept. 7 start with a 48-game regular-season and best-of-seven playoffs, an Oct. 12 start with 40 games and best-of-seven playoffs, a Nov. 16 start with 40 games and best-of-three playoffs or Dec. 14 start with 32 games and best-of-three playoffs.

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“If I was a betting man, I’m not sure where I would place my money,” said Norm Kelly, co-owner of the Saanich franchise.

“To me, maybe October 12th makes sense because it would give time to monitor how the NHL teams are doing.”

Everybody would, obviously, prefer the earliest start that is safe.

“We are hoping it’s September or October and not November or December,” said Campbell River Storm head coach and GM Lee Stone.

“But we have to do our due diligence and have as many options in place as possible if there are setbacks.”

Kelly said the issue is largely out of the VIJHL’s hands in that the league must follow the Hockey Canada and B.C. Hockey return-to-play guidelines, regardless. Those are being constantly updated as the situation unfolds.

“We can’t even play contact hockey, yet,” said Kelly.

“That’s where we are.”

And the province’s return-to-play guidelines trump those of Hockey Canada and B.C. Hockey.

“We are waiting for Phase 3 of those because all we can do right now is skate and skills development,” said Stone.

The VIJHL restart, based on current guidelines, would be without fans because of the B.C. regulation barring gatherings of more than 50 people.

“That’s barely enough for the two teams, referees and scorekeepers,” said Kelly. “If the number went up to 200, or something like that, we would look at it [in terms of fans]. But right now, even I would be watching the games via video broadcasting.”

The Western Hockey League, which includes the Victoria Royals, has announced a start date of Oct. 2, which is considered optimistic by many observers because it is predicated on socially-distanced fans in attendance to 50 per cent arena capacity.

The 2020 VIJHL playoffs were cancelled mid-stride March 12 due to COVID-19.

The nine-team VIJHL consists of Saanich, Campbell River, Nanaimo, Oceanside, Victoria Cougars, Peninsula Panthers, Westshore Wolves, Kerry Park Islanders and Comox Valley Glacier Kings.

Due to the pandemic, and budgetary concerns, VIJHL teams would not play regular-season games in 2020-21 outside their South or North divisions.

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