Next season

Next season

Fewer games, realignment approved by BCHL

Surrey Eagles and other BC Hockey League teams will play four fewer games next hockey season.

The BC Hockey League season will get a week longer and four games shorter next season, after league governors passed a number of motions at its semi-annual meeting last week in Richmond.

For the 2012-2013 season, each team in the BCHL will play 56 games, down from 60, in an attempt to minimize the number of mid-week games teams play. Historically, midweek games – especially in the Lower Mainland, including Surrey – have drawn mediocre crowds. Under the new system, more games will be held on Friday and Saturday nights.

“I think it’s good. With the economy the way it is, I think this will really help (team’s finances),” said Surrey Eagles head coach and general manager Matt Erhart.

“Before, if you had a Wednesday night game and the Canucks were playing on TV, it was basically a success if you lost money.”

It was also decided that the start of the regular season would be Sept. 14 – this year it began Sept. 23 – while a showcase event, held to attract scouts, will be held in a select city Sept. 7-9, with each team playing twice, and results counting in the regular-season standings.

The season would end March 10, two weeks earlier than in the past.

The league will again re-jig its conferences and divisions. Starting next season, there will be 10 teams in the Coastal Conference – split into Island and Mainland divisions, as has been done in the past – including Chilliwack and Prince George. The new-look Interior Confernence will feature the league’s remaining six teams: Merritt, Trail, Penticton, Vernon, Salmon Arm and Westside.

Prince George will have the option to return to the Interior Conference after next season, perhaps opening the door for a new team to join the Coastal Conference. Earlier this month, a bid by the Washington’s Wenatchee Wild of the North American Junior Hockey League was rejected by USA Hockey without a reason provided.

And while it may seem odd to put Prince George in a division with teams in the Lower Mainland – even temporarily – Erhart said it’s really not that big of a deal. Under the new schedule, Lower Mainland teams would play each other 11 times, and would only have to play Interior Conference squads four teams, which could be covered off in one double-header trip for each team.

“People look at that alignment and they say, ‘wow’ but it’s really not too bad,” Erhart said.

“And besides, next year we’ll only have to make a couple trips to the Island, and this year we’re making seven, so that saves our team a lot of money, too.

“I kind of like the structure of it all.”

A playoff format for next season has not yet been determined; teams were encouraged to submit their playoff ideas to the league by Feb. 1.

“These decisions were not made in haste and came only after lengthy debate by our governors,” said BCHL

commissioner John Grisdale in a release. “The BCHL considers itself an innovator and model for Junior A hockey in Canada and these decisions, not all of them unanimous, have been made with the intention of ensuring the long-term viability of our league.”

Though not outlined in the BCHL’s release on the governor’s meeting, Erhart said the league would be nudging roster sizes back to “22 or 23” as opposed to this year’s limit of 21, which leaves little wiggle room for teams once injuries hit.

“That’s a really good thing,” he said. “With just 20 guys, you get one guy hurt, somebody else gets sick and then you have to start using affiliate players already.”