Open sesame? Spruce Kings look to return to RMCA


2020 is a year like no other, with junior hockey being no exception.

Due to COVID-19, the remainder of the BCHL playoffs were wiped out and many important events like the Fred Page Cup and the National Junior A Championship ended up being cancelled, leaving many players with an empty feeling.

Fast forward nearly seven months later, and the league is set to begin play. However, some teams are uncertain about where they will be dropping the puck.

One of the clubs that could be impacted is the Prince George Spruce Kings.

The BCHL’s most northern franchise is submitting a return-to-play proposal to Prince George City Council during Monday’s meeting with the hope the Rolling Mix Concrete Arena is made available to them for all home games.

In March, the city closed all civic-run facilities, including all arenas including the CN Centre, Elks Centre, Kin Arenas, and RMCA because of the pandemic.

At the end of July, mainly due to public backlash and pressure from user groups, city council re-opened the Kin Arenas in August and left the remainder of the arenas closed.

However, what wasn’t known at the time is the city left the door open for discussion to re-open the RMCA once a more concrete start date was determined for the BCHL.

The Spruce Kings are slated to play eight pre-season games, with two of them scheduled at home against the Merritt Centennials on October 25 and November 7.

The clock is ticking

With those dates fast approaching, Spruce Kings general manager Mike Hawes says RMCA is the only viable rink for the team to play in.

“Of course, the BCHL season is now guaranteed to be happening in December so we are looking for the city to follow through with that discussion in July.”

“We have to be able to sell advertising in the building to generate some revenue, especially this season, it’s kind of unprecedented where in BCHL and Spruce Kings history we have had to charge some fees to our players,” Hawes explained.

“Without generating revenue through some viewable advertising that will be on our HockeyTV broadcasts, the fees for the players would be way too high and I would not be comfortable with that, so the only option for us to sell advertising is in RMCA.”

RMCA or bust?

Hawes mentions they won’t be able to sell in-arena advertising at the CN Centre if they played there, because it is the home of the Western Hockey League’s Cougars. It’s the same situation at Kin 1 Arena since that rink is the home of Cariboo Hockey.

On top of that, the Elks Centre isn’t even close to BCHL standards during the era of COVID-19.

“RMCA is the only arena in town that is going to work for us because we can’t share a facility with a Western Hockey League team, our league office will not support that due to the WHL branding in the arena. Kin 1 does not have enough seats as we need 1,500 minimum in our league so that is not an option,” Hawes added.

“Certainly, the best option for us this season and seasons beyond is RMCA.”

When you crunch the numbers, Rolling Mix Concrete Arena’s operational cost recovery has declined in recent years, according to city officials.

In 2018, RMCA had a cost-recovery rate of 37 percent. Last year, it declined to 28 percent due to required maintenance and ice plant work.

If RMCA re-opened in September, the operational cost recovery rate for 2020 was projected to be 16 percent.

The cost of opening RMCA for the remainder of 2020 is estimated at approximately $210,000. The 2021 city budget impact is estimated at slightly higher than double this, at approximately $500,000.

The Spruce Kings signed a seven-year lease with the city in February to operate out of the 62-year-old facility. According to business operations manager Kyle Anderson, the team averaged 1,790 fans per game during the 2019 playoff run.