BCHL delays season start to January


Surrey Eagles forward Christian Fitzgerald scored the BC Hockey League’s final goal of 2020. And he scored it on March 8 in a first-round, 3-2 game seven victory over the Chilliwack Chiefs.

It goes down on record as the final game played in the league during the 2020 calendar year.

On Monday evening, the league announced a further delay to the start of the 2020-21 season due to restrictions put in place by British Columbia Public Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to combat the spread of COVID-19.

The restrictions limit players over the age of majority from participating in team activities due to all indoor and outdoor adult team sports being put on hold. Nearly 47 percent of all BCHL players are 19 or 20-years-old, not including the Wenatchee Wild, who took a hiatus for this season due to the continued closure of the US-Canada border.

Although the restrictions came into effect on December 3, they were extended by the PHO until midnight on January 8. The league initially announced a start date of December 1 in July and pushed it back to December 8 last month. Now, the season won’t start any earlier than January 9.

“For the past nine months, the Board of Governors, the league office and the return-to-play task force have done everything possible to do right by our players and the public,” said BCHL Board Chairman Graham Fraser in a news release. “Under our PHO-approved COVID-19 safety plan, we successfully trained and played exhibition games from September to November, completing 90 games without a transmission, but the current restrictions will not allow us to start our regular season in December.”

The league had two reported cases of COVID-19 so far this fall. A Surrey Eagles player tested positive in late October, and a Penticton Vees player did at the end of November.

The boys in the bubble?

Meanwhile, the idea of a single city “bubble” format for the league has been floated as an option if travel restrictions continue.

“We remain committed to exploring every option available to us to start our season safely and as soon as possible, including presenting the concept of a BCHL hub. We look forward to getting things going again in January with all of our players back on the ice,” continued Fraser.

Some teams have had players take part in Phase 2 activities since last week’s announcement, with a focus on skills and development, while other teams have sent players home for a break over the holiday season.

“We are disappointed that our 19 and 20-year-old players are not able to join their teammates in on-ice activities,” said BCHL commissioner Chris Hebb in the league’s statement. “We are working diligently with BC Hockey, viaSPORT BC, and the PHO to get our older players on the ice, but at the moment we must follow the PHO’s order as written.”

Ultimately, the PHO restrictions limit how much a team can do during a practice session and essentially shuts things down for now.

“While the current restrictions only directly affect athletes age 19 and up, there are unintended consequences for our younger players as well,” said BCHL Executive Director Steven Cocker. “Although they are still allowed on the ice, the fact remains that half of their teammates are not, which essentially means their teams and the league are forced to pause operations until restrictions are lifted.”