He founded it, he funded it, and he hired the staff to make it run, but when his White Rock Whalers hit the ice for their home opener next month, Ronnie Paterson might not be able to see his own team play.
Granted, he’s not complaining.
In fact, all the junior ‘B’ team’s president really wants is for his team to be able to play in their home rink.
The Whalers opened the Pacific Junior Hockey League regular season last week, with a road win over the Surrey Knights, and have two more road games set for early next month – Nov. 1 against the Ridge Meadows Flames and Nov. 4 versus the Aldergrove Kodiaks – before they’ll hopefully skate at White Rock’s Centennial Arena Nov. 7 against Aldergrove.
Currently, the Whalers are allowed to skate at Centennial Arena – they’ve been practising there for a number of weeks – but the dressing rooms at the arena are not currently considered to be part of the “field of play” under the city’s COVID-19 return-to-play protocols, Paterson told Peace Arch News.
With the dressing rooms closed, Whalers players have been putting their gear on at home and in the arena parking lot, and walking into the facility while wearing skate guards. That setup, while manageable for training, Paterson noted, isn’t workable for league games because the PJHL “isn’t interested in playing in a venue where we cannot have dressing rooms.”
“The guys have been arriving in the parking lot with most of their gear on… the benches (that are part of the rink) are now part of the field of play, so we can go to the benches, we can now have contact, and scrimmage. We can do a lot of things, where initially we could not – we can do everything we need to do, with the exception of using the dressing rooms,” Paterson said.
Paterson said the team respects the City of White Rock’s protocols – “We don’t want to be treated differently than anybody else,” he said – but they are currently working with the city to come up with a solution that would allow them to play.
Considering the Whalers’ home games are Saturday nights only, and that the rink is not in use after them that evening, Paterson said the team’s hope was that they’d be allowed into the dressing rooms for their games “as a one-off” and then have the rooms emptied and properly cleaned and sanitized after the game.
“We’ll do anything. We’ll do the funding (to have it cleaned), or we’ll do the cleaning ourselves, because we recognize it would not necessarily be available to everyone else. We’ll work with the city and with minor hockey, and hopefully in a few weeks time we’ll have the ability to go into the dressing room,” Paterson said.
“We’re getting close. Just a couple small hurdles left to overcome, but I’m confident we can do that.”
If the Whalers are not able to play at Centennial Arena, they would have to find an arena in another city in which to play home games. Currently, the Ridge Meadows Flames are playing in Abbotsford, as their usual home rink won’t be available to them until the new year, Paterson noted.
Officials at the City of White Rock have not yet responded to a request for comment.
The longtime junior-hockey executive – who is a former co-owner of both the PJHL’s Richmond Sockeyes and the BC Hockey League’s Surrey Eagles – added that, should the dressing be opened and games allowed to be played, a number of safety protocols would still be in place, including a maximum of 50 people allowed in the arena.
That number includes players from both teams, coaches, trainers and on-ice officials, as well as essential off-ice staff such as scorekeepers, play-by-play announces and timekeepers.
Once those essential people are tallied up, Paterson is hopeful there still may be a few available spots for other members of the team, but concedes that “it might be a bit of stretch, so we’ll just play it by ear.”
Financially, Paterson said PJHL teams aren’t likely to be as adversely affected as those in other leagues due to a lack of ticket revenue because the league has always used a pay-to-play model. The junior ‘A’ BCHL, by comparison, is for the first time ever charging its players to play this season as a way to stay in operation.
“It’s probably less financially disruptive for us than others. Our existence isn’t predicated on (external) revenue streams, so we can still move forward with our team and still give back to the community, all that kind of stuff, so we’re excited about that,” he said.
“It’s a very, very difficult situation for some of these leagues as they try to overcome these economical challenges… but we’re a little bit on the right side of the wave here. We just need to make sure we have a venue to play in and we’ll be able to rock ’n’ roll.”