The BC Hockey League (BCHL) will be returning to the ice for a shortened 2020-21 season after health officials approved a return-to-play proposal.
According to the provincial hockey league, it will operate in a “pod” model where three to four teams will play each other in five different locations across the province.
The BCHL – which will resume in the first week of April – will have pods in Penticton, Coquitlam, Chilliwack, Vernon and Port Alberni.
“The players were incredibly excited to get the news and this was really important for us to have the opportunity for them to compete again,” said Port Alberni Bulldogs President David Michaud.
The Victoria Grizzlies, Cowichan Valley Capitals, Nanaimo Clippers and the Alberni Valley Bulldogs will all play at the multi-plex in Port Alberni. Out of town teams will travel to and from Port Alberni for each game.
“I know our guys love our rink and are excited to stay put and so for the island teams it will be nice to host them here,” added Michaud.
“After months and months of hard work behind the scenes by the league’s Return-to-Play Task Force, we are pleased to make the announcement today that the BCHL will be back on the ice to play the 2020-21 season,” said BCHL commissioner Chris Hebb. “This entire process has always been about our players and giving them the best chance to get back to playing games and showcasing their skills, and we have accomplished that today.”
The Provincial Health Office has accepted the return-to-play plan and the league’s Board of Governors has approved teams’ returns to action, pointing to a successful exhibition season towards the end of last year.
“We proved in our extended exhibition season in the fall that our COVID-19 Safety Plan was effective after playing 89 games with zero transmissions, and we look forward to working within that system again,” said Chairman of the BCHL Board of Governors Graham Fraser.
“It’s been a long road for everyone involved with the league since we were shut down in November, but we are grateful that we get a chance to finish what we started and get our young athletes back on the ice.”
The league notes that it has hired a Chief Medical Officer who will oversee all COVID-19 safety protocols for the five-week season — including testing and a quarantine period for players and team staff.
The BCHL emphasizes that it is “thrilled” to get the chance to play and put the spotlight back on young hockey players in British Columbia.
“At the end of the day, our league is all about getting players scholarships and moving them on to the next level to allow them to pursue their athletic and educational goals,” said BCHL Executive Director Steven Cocker. “With no games since November, it has been difficult for these players to get noticed by college programs and, as a result, we’ve seen a significant effect on the number of college commitments in the league this year.”
By returning to the ice, Cocker hopes that their athletes get the “attention they deserve.”
Currently, there are no plans for league-wide playoffs however Michaud says as COVID restrictions loosen he’d love to see a “Final Four” style format with the entire league to end the season.
More detailed information about the BCHL restart will be available in the coming days.
READ MORE: Victoria Royals name eighth captain in club history ahead of 2021 restart