The BC Hockey League is reaching out to the provincial government for help as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to negatively affect the junior ‘A’ hockey circuit and its teams, including the Surrey Eagles.
BCHL commissioner Chris Hebb – a Semiahmoo Peninsula resident – said the league has gathered letters of support from the mayors in each team’s market, as well as Kitimat, where last season the league held its first-ever BCHL Road Show event. Those letters were sent to the provincial government last weekend.
The hope is that a meeting or discussion could be had with both parties, which could lead to financial aid from the provincial government, which would help offset losses teams have faced as result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We want to be pro-active… so that’s why we’re trying to get out there now and tell our story,” Hebb told Peace Arch News Wednesday.
“At the end of the day, the league is a meaningful part of the British Columbia landscape – it’s been around for 59 years.
“It’s never had a dime of government support and there are other junior ‘A’ leagues around the country that do get government support, so we just felt it might be time to put our hand up and ask for a meeting.”
In March, the league saw playoffs cancelled after the first round, and since then, teams have had to cancel spring camps that typically bring in thousands of dollars for each organization.
In Surrey, not only will the Eagles be forced to cancel or postpone spring sessions, owner Chuck Westgard is looking further ahead to the summer, too.
“It hurts a lot of the teams – all that (off-season) revenue is gone,” he told PAN.
“For us, is there a golf tournament in August? We generate probably $75,000 a year from that tournament, and even if we (are allowed) to hold it, will people be spending money after this? There’s just so much unknown.”
Hebb said that the league recently dipped into its contingency fund and distributed cheques to teams, which for the 2020/21 season is set to include the expansion Cranbrook Bucks.
“We wrote cheques to each team – not big cheques, but ones that can take a little bit of the sting out of (the situation),” Hebb said.
Adding to the pressure that some owners face is that their other businesses have also slowed or been shut down entirely.
“Most of the teams are owned by people who have other businesses that are also struggling,” said Westgard, who is a real-estate developer.
“But you can’t be mad – it’s one of those things you can’t control.”
It’s been suggested that the league could potentially lose teams as a result of the pandemic, though Hebb said those types of discussions – including, perhaps, the idea that organizations could take a one-year hiatus and return in 2021/22 – are still premature.
“Nobody – not a single team in our league – has indicated that, or said, ‘Look, we aren’t playing next year,’” said Hebb, who has been commissioner of the BCHL since 2018.
“Our owners are optimistic and so are we. Our intention is to play next season.”
While the Eagles are among teams that have felt a financial pinch – all staff have been temporarily laid off – the team will also make every effort to return.
“I will say that we’re going to do everything possible, and we’re planning on being back,” Westgard said. “We’re just doing whatever we can to stay financially alive, and everyone will be (hired) back the moment this is over.”
Typically, teams hold training camps in August, and regular-season play begins in September. Hebb said if the start of the next season is delayed, and puck drop is moved ahead to October or even November, the league would look at playing a reduced schedule.
Ultimately, however, Hockey Canada – the governing body for the sport in this country – in conjunction with health authorities, will make the call on when play resumes.
“They’re calling the shots,” Hebb said.
Westgard hoped that teams would be able to return to the ice by July, which would leave the Eagles with enough time to host some form of summer camp and prepare for the season.
“If we can get back on the ice in July, we can make things happen,” he said.