Province gives WHL's B.C. Division the OK to play

Warm-up the Zamboni and unpack the mothballed boxes of jerseys. Being late to the party is better than not attending at all.

The B.C. Division of the Western Hockey League, the last division to get an OK to play, has received permission from the provincial government to play an abbreviated 24-game season.

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“It is great news and I am glad to hear it,” said Victoria Royals GM and head coach Dan Price.

Price said he couldn’t comment further until he received more details. Few were known by Monday evening, other than that B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said earlier in the day during a media scrum at the Legislature in Victoria that a plan to play has been approved.

“With regards to the WHL, their proposal has been reviewed and it’s fair to say it has been accepted, and we hope the season will proceed,” said Dix.

“A series of variances are required from public health and they’re working on those now, but the plan has been approved in principle, and I expect their season in British Columbia to go ahead.

WHL commissioner Ron Robison did not return requests for comment. Sources said details are to be unveiled today.

Dix said last month that a 65-page proposal to play was submitted to the provincial government by the WHL.

The government of Saskatchewan gave the go-ahead last month for the five teams in that province, and two from Manitoba, to play in a single-site bubble in Regina beginning March 12. Training camps have begun. The five Alberta teams began play last Friday, in a travel format with no fans in the venues. The five-team U.S. Division will start on March 18, also in a travel format. The four arenas in Washington state have been approved for hosting games but no spectators will be allowed. The Portland Winterhawks will play out of a venue to be decided.

There is speculation 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.

In its latest released player screening figures, the WHL said it administered 481 tests for COVID-19 from Feb. 6 to Feb. 26 with no positive results.

Each WHL team will play 24 games. There will be no playoffs.

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.

“I am happy for the players,” said Price.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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