WHL proposes 24-game schedule while BCHL plans to start Feb. 8

The Zamboni is driving on fumes.

But the Western Hockey League and B.C. Hockey League are both vowing to find enough gas to play this season. Even if it’s only for 24 games, as is the latest WHL proposal, released Friday night.

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“The WHL is committed to providing a season for [its] players,” commissioner Ron Robison said in a statement.

“This commitment ensures WHL players will receive the opportunity to compete.”

At this late juncture, the ­Victoria Royals will take that abbreviated season, if it happens at all.

“It’s a great step forward and our players are excited by the [league announcement],” said Royals GM and head coach Dan Price.

But it means having to co-ordinate rules and restrictions across four provinces and two U.S. states.

“There’s a lot of heavy lifting, and a lot of work and detail, to go through with each of the [six] jurisdictions,” Price said.

“But the league has made the commitment to do so.”

The BCHL regular season, meanwhile, normally concludes in February. But that is the earliest it can start this year. The league, however, is optimistic about salvaging something out of this season after pushing back its start date to the week of Feb 8 in keeping with the B.C. health restrictions being extended to Feb. 5. The WHL, at least its B.C. Division, also cannot begin until after then.

The BCHL had planned to start later this month if the previous restrictions were lifted by their scheduled Friday expiry.

“Although it is frustrating to have to delay our season start once again, we are in no way, shape or form throwing in the towel on the 2020-21 season,” BCHL commissioner Chris Hebb said in a statement.

Hebb said he appreciates the need for further delay: “We understand why the order was extended and we will continue to work with the [provincial health officer] on scenarios to start a season in a safe manner.”

BCHL teams, including five in the Island Division, will continue practice sessions.

“It’s good to know where we stand now,” said Victoria Grizzlies GM and head coach Craig Didmon.

“But every week seems like a month. Our players are itching at the bit and just want to play. We are persistent and will stick through it. It’s unfortunate, but our guys are taking advantage of the training time.”

At least now they can do so with all their teammates. ­ViaSport, the governing body for amateur sport in B.C., recently rectified a glaring flaw in its restrictions which originally disallowed anyone over 18 from participating in training with their teams. With the junior hockey age group running from 16 to 20, that ruling severed BCHL and WHL rosters in half. The regulation, aimed mainly at adult beer leagues, was amended last month to barring anyone 22 or over from training regularly in team sports. There are exemptions, including athletes training for the Olympics, pro athletes and varsity athletes.

ICE CHIPS: There are 223 past or present WHL players and 48 BCHL alumni skating in the NHL training camps taking place ahead of Wednesday’s season start.


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