Different return-to-play scenarios are being considered by the BC Hockey Leagues for the 2020-21 season, and the league remains confident play will go ahead despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Several different models – that include different start dates depending on government restrictions – were discussed on a recent call with the league’s board of governors, a June 1 BCHL release noted.
As well, the Hockey Canada Registry opened June 1, marking the official start of the new league season, which means teams can begin to officially make roster moves. A handful of trades were announced around the league soon after, including one involving the Surrey Eagles, who shipped Jordan Hendry and Hassan Akl to the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Fort McMurray Oil Barons, completing a future-considerations deal from last January.
On Wednesday, the league also released the first of two notices explaining new rules and protocols that will be in place for the coming season, whenever it begins.
And while Surrey Eagles owner Chuck Westgard shares the league’s optimism that the 2020-21 season will be played in some form, the team did catch some by surprise this month when a letter to families regarding spring-camp refunds included a line suggesting the team could fold.
• READ ALSO: BC Hockey League prepping for 2020-‘21
While the majority of the letter detailed the logistics of camp refunds – which includes Westgard paying part of them out of his own pocket rather than team coffers – the letter, signed by Westgard, says that “At this point we are not even sure the Surrey Eagles Hockey Club will exist moving forward.”
The letter also states that COVID-19 “has devastated our financial picture.”
Speaking to Peace Arch News this week, Westgard said the message was not meant to alarm anyone – nor was it a statement of any intent to fold the team. Rather, it was an attempt to be fully transparent about the team’s current difficulties while also acknowledging that the ongoing pandemic makes the future tough to predict.
“We run a large deficit every year,” Westgard said. “And the spring camp, that funds a big part of our team… and you just don’t know (with COVID-19) what is going to happen. There could be a second wave (of outbreaks) for all we know.
“I could fold the team, but that’s the easy way out – closing up and blaming (the pandemic), but my goal has always been to keep this team on the ice … and I’m confident that we’ll somehow make it happen.”
In April, the BCHL, set to enter its 59th season, announced it was reaching out to the provincial government for support. Those discussions, with both Premier John Horgan and Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Lisa Beare, continue, the league said in the release.
“We’ve had lengthy discussions with Minister Beare and her office since sending them a letter in early April,” said Graham Fraser, chairman of the BCHL’s board of governors.
“Our call with Premier Horgan was also positive. He understands the importance of the BCHL to its 18 communities, as well as the entire province. Premier Horgan, along with Minster Beare, heard our request for financial support and both understand our position. We will continue these discussions with the provincial government in the coming weeks.”
In a second release, issued Wednesday, the league detailed some new rules and guidelines for the coming season. The league has created a Department of Player Safety, led by longtime NHL official Brad Lazarowich and BCHL executive director Steven Cocker, and there will also be stricter penalties for fighting.
Moving forward, players will receive supplementary discipline after their second fight; the previous standard was four fights in one season. As well, the league will have a “zero-tolerance stance” on instigator and aggressor penalties, with suspensions for first offences.
“As a leader of developing college-bound student athletes, we feel this is a progressive step for the BCHL,” said Cocker.
“The safety of our players is an integral part of any decision we make as a league and a stronger stance on fighting and zero-tolerance on instigators and aggressors is a great step forward.”