BC Hockey League

BCHL commissioner Chris Hebb Q&A: League delays 2020-21 season start to January


The BC Hockey League sent out a news release on Monday announcing the delay of the start of the 2020-21 season to January. The delay is in response to British Columbia Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry extending the recent order regarding sports and extracurricular activities.

The order states that all indoor and outdoor sports for people 19 years of age and older are suspended. Players that age accounts for nearly half of those in the BCHL.

In a Q&A with BCHLNetwork co-founder and managing editor Brian Wiebe, BCHL commissioner Chris Hebb talks about the season delay, the potential for a hub scenario, advocating to get the league’s players who are over the age of majority on the ice, and more.

Brian Wiebe: What does the push back to at least a January 9th start mean for the number of games to get in for a meaningful season?

Chris Hebb: We’ll probably lose 10 games per team, but if we get to play by the end of January, we should be able to get in 24-25 games per team.

BW: Has the season’s end date shifted at all compared to previous updates when you looked at wrapping up in March?

CH: We’re kind of locked into the end date because that’s when the rinks are not available to us in many of the towns because lacrosse will come in. So we’ve had to try and keep a hard finish date.

BW: How long can you go with delays before you say getting the season in isn’t realistic?

CH: We think if we get into March, it’s going to be very difficult (to play a meaningful season). We haven’t made any decisions on that, we just keep kicking the can down the road and seeing if we can get these kids a season.

It’s really important that they get seen, especially the ones looking for scholarships. We want the scouts to be able to see them play in full-contact hockey. So it’s going to be a last-second decision if we decide to shut it down.

BW: We’ve seen some college commitments already for some BCHL players during the extended training camp. Did that three months of activity accomplish what you wanted it to?

CH: I think it did. Most of the scouts would have loved to have been in the rinks live and been able to see the players live – but with all of our games on BCHL TV, we were able to provide the scouts with a pretty good sample of what these players look like.

BW: Word is out about a possible BCHL hub, and it was even mentioned in the league’s news release. If you go that route, where could the hub be located?

CH: All of this is hinging on the Provincial Health Officer agreeing with our plan. One of the ideas that have been put forward is Penticton because it’s so central and has a significant arena environment, around which we could build a bubble.

There have also been some ideas thrown around about hubs in different regions. We’re not married to anything right now, what we’re married to is what the PHO says we can do.

BW: Aside from running a full interlock season as you would normally, is the preferred option to operate in a cohort-based model as you did during the extended training camp?

CH: Absolutely. If we can get what we had during the exhibition season, and have the travel restrictions that we had then, and the capability for us to play full contact, that would amount to a good season for our players. We would be happy to do that if it suits the PHO.

BW: How fluid is the BCHL’s return to play plan in the event things get pushed back again?

CH: We know that on January 8th at midnight, the current restrictions are going to either be extended or lifted. We’ll get together on January 8th and based on what we hear from the PHO, make decisions as to what our season looks like going forward.

If there’s an extension – she has a tendency to extend by a month each time – I guess the next time we’d have a decision to make is early February. We’re taking the lead of the Provincial Health Officer, we’re not in any way going rogue. Obviously, we need to get the 19 and 20-year-olds back as part of our league in order for us to have a season, so that’s our priority right now.

BW: What steps are you taking regarding the 19 and 20-year-old situation given that you want to take the lead of the PHO but also give these players an opportunity to be part of their teams and the league?

CH: We think we have to have a conversation with the PHO because this is an unintended consequence of an order that was really meant to curtail the activity of beer league teams.

Our 19 and 20-year-olds are as far from a beer league team as you could imagine and I think the PHO just hasn’t quite grasped that.

So we have to have that conversation and explain it, and I think once we do explain it – it may not change their mind – but it will at least give us the feeling that we’ve been heard.

BW: Are BC Hockey and viaSport involved in that conversation as well?

CH: We understand that viaSport and BC Hockey have already made their submissions to allow the 19 and 20-year-olds in junior to go back to training with their teams under Phase 2 (activities).

The fact is that when an order comes out, there’s a lot of clarification that takes place and we are definitely being advocated for at the regulatory level, but we’re also doing it ourselves. If we can have a direct conversation (with the PHO), we can clarify the situation the best.

BW: Given the recommendation of non-essential travel, how does a month-long layoff affect rosters if players return home?

CH: If players decide to go home – and we’re leaving it up to the players – our league is paused. The BCHL is paused until January 8th. If some players want to go home and their teams want to work out and have skates for them and keep them training, that’s up to the teams and up to the players.

If the players do go and leave the province of BC, a BCHL-imposed rule is when they come back, they will have to go through quarantine or provide us with a negative COVID-19 test.

BW: Are all 17 teams still “all-in” for a 2020-21 season despite the setbacks?

CH: At this point, yes.

BW: What has the discussion been to this point regarding a potential playoff format?

CH: We’ve had some discussions. We know it’s going to be a shorter playoff season than we’d have otherwise, in order to get it in – to get a decent amount of regular season games, plus a playoff. There have been a lot of different ideas advanced, but we haven’t settled on anything.

BW: Is there a certain amount of COVID-19 fatigue and frustration over how things have gone thus far?

CH: We’ve been working on this since March, and it’s a bumpy road and it’s a rollercoaster, you don’t know from week to week what you’re going to be able to tell your players, what you’re going to be able to tell their parents. It’s wearing on our coaches, and obviously wearing on the league too, but at the end of the day, it’s about the players.

We are doing everything we can to get these players a season and they’ve been so patient, plus they’ve been adhering to the protocols. These guys get it, they know how important having a season is to their future and they’re committed to making sure nobody goes off the rails.