Kevin Swaile

BCHL start in December? (Maybe there is a way)

 

I wrote a story recently that pessimistically predicted there would be no hockey this year and quite possibly not until September 2021. Could I be wrong about that? Of course. The story assumes only the facts in evidence.

It assumes that what was normal in February this year will be somewhat normal again. It assumes that as a society we will be in lockdown until the old normal returns. It also assumes that as new information becomes available and society adapts to the new restrictions the pandemic brings, governments won’t revise their approach, the BCHL and its teams won’t be creative and fans won’t adapt. If these assumptions are wrong, then my prediction is also wrong.

Seatbelts used to be optional

There was a time (not all that long ago actually) that driving in a car without wearing a seatbelt was normal. Very few cars had them and even if they did, very few people wore them. The use of car seats had the same stigma and then wearing seatbelts and securing infants became a requirement.

Most people adapted to this new normal quite quickly and today there is an entire generation who would find not doing these simple things abhorrent. Oh, back in the day, there was a vocal minority that decried the use of these safety measures as unwelcome government interference with their civil liberties but over time these have become the norm. How we physically interact with each other is changing. This will be the new normal and just like wearing a seatbelt, we have to get used to it.

Fans in the stands

A number of things have to happen to ensure we have hockey this December.

The model the BC Government is using to allow activities to happen has to be much more flexible. Already we are seeing some evidence of that. Plans are in place to reopen schools in September. Using “new normal” safeguards, businesses are reopening. The door is open for the league and teams to bring new and creative ideas forward to get the season started. It may not be as hard as we think.

The BCHL and its individual teams will have to be very creative to move forward. The BCHLNetwork interviewed league commissioner Chris Hebb recently and he touched on a few of the challenges moving forward.

In addition to his comments, there are other issues that need to be addressed. The teams will need new revenue streams. The idea of team “bubbles” needs to be explored. How to exist in arenas at reduced capacity will have to be planned for. Concessions will have to be modified to allow for physical distancing, or not allowed at all.

Fans will need to be adaptable. Physical distancing is such a foreign concept, but it is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Wash your hands, disinfect, wear a mask. Simple things, the new normal. And patience, lots of patience. It will take time to get used to these changes. Maybe be a bit harder to get into and out of arenas. It may be harder to use the washrooms. As folks attending games, we will need to be ready to adapt.

Opening arenas so hockey can begin hinges on what the BC government decides to do as time moves forward. The government wants things to get back to normal, the new normal. Having recreational facilities open is key to getting that done.

The border is closed

Junior hockey, it could be argued, should be classified as an essential service. The impact of this league being shut down for a season is enormous.

If it was classified as essential, with proper safeguards in place, there is no reason that the team from Wenatchee and import players wouldn’t be able to participate. By that time, testing should be much more effective and timely. The league would have had time to create a schedule that minimizes travel between the US and Canada.

Hockey in December. Maybe. But it will not be the same. Maybe, in some respects, it will be better. Although it will be a much different experience for the BCHL, its 18 teams and the fans, the game on the ice will be exactly the same. For this hockey fan, that is what counts.