On September 11, the BCHL announced the first details of its alternative return to play plan. It’s a plan that sees big changes to how the Prince George Spruce Kings would operate. This includes regional cohorts and a 30-40 game season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This plan goes into effect if the league can’t get approval for its primary plan. That plan would see the arenas at 25 percent capacity. All BCHL teams depend on ticket sales for their primary revenue. If they can’t get approval for 25 percent capacity then the alternative plan would go into effect.
It’s a plan that mirrors what the KIJHL has announced. Because of the pandemic, three of their teams have opted out of play this coming season. The 100 Mile House Wranglers, Beaver Valley NiteHawks, and Spokane Braves had their players dispersed in a dispersal draft.
With the BCHL alternative plan, there are parts of it that will affect how the Spruce Kings operate. The biggest change would be the amount of distance they travel in a season. Another change would be long breaks in between certain stages of the season to facilitate cohort swaps.
Aside from that, the Spruce Kings may have to find a different place to play until 2021. In late July, I wrote about the Prince George city council voting to close their arena until 2021. The Rolling Mix Concrete Arena is 62 years old and the costliest arena in the city to maintain because of its age.
BCHL approves alternative scenario to guarantee a 2020-21 season
— BC Hockey League (@GoBCHL) September 11, 2020
While the Spruce Kings have played away from the RMCA before, it’s not clear what’s in store for the future. City council may revisit the arena closure at a later date. It all depends on user demand and how much of a deficit they are willing to run.
Big changes are coming
In 2017, Ted Clarke wrote an article for the Prince George Citizen about the Spruce Kings’ desire to see Quesnel return to the BCHL. Clarke cited their average yearly travel costs at $100,000. This included hotels and restaurant costs, excluding playoffs.
If the alternative plan gets approved then the Spruce Kings travel costs will be reduced. When playing in the Mainland Division last season, they visited teams like Chilliwack, Surrey, Coquitlam, and Langley three to four times a season.
Likewise, they visited teams like Wenatchee, Trail, and Powell River only once per season. If the Spruce Kings are in a regional cohort then it will most likely be with three other teams, although they may not play against the teams closest to them.
Not having to incur those extra travel costs will mean a lot of money saved on travelling. This will also be true when the cohort swaps occur. Like the KIJHL, certain stages will see some teams swap cohorts. According to the BCHL proposal, there will be 14 days between teams swapping out.
Aside from these changes, there are also new helmet requirements for all players coming.
This is what #BCHL will be wearing if given the approval to play this year…full face shield will also have drip protection on the bottom to contain sweat/saliva…#Bauer in full production mode right now. pic.twitter.com/7oF1XIo1wL
— JAY JANOWER (@JayJanower) September 9, 2020
The new helmets are designed to be full face shields. According to Global BC sports reporter Jay Janower, the shields will have “drip protection on the bottom to contain sweat and saliva”. Meanwhile, any home games will look very different. It’s something Brendan Pawliw wrote about in mid-August.
In Prince George, the three Kin arenas are each run as separate facilities. When they opened the arenas on August 17, they instituted several precautions like user groups couldn’t use dressing rooms and they also had to show up fully dressed with no outside people coming in.
One of the biggest changes in the new plan is player fees. If they can’t get fans in the stands then they will have to charge player’s fees. These would go beyond their normal billet fees. Fellow BCHLNetwork writer Brian Wiebe asked BCHL commissioner Chris Hebb about the fees in an interview on September 11.
Asked specifically if some teams would lose players Hebb agreed. “Sure, and if there’s a situation where a player has an opportunity to go somewhere else and doesn’t want to pay the fee, they can go, obviously.”
He goes on to say that they would look for corporate and government support. “It’s our intention to keep everybody, but that may not be possible.”
#BCHL commissioner Chris Hebb Q&A: league approves alternative scenario for 2020-21
— BCHLNetwork (@BCHLNetwork) September 12, 2020
Hebb also admitted that the individual costs are going to depend on each team and their finances. This means that teams like the Spruce Kings may lose players if they can’t get some form of corporate or government support to help keep them. After all, the Spruce Kings are a community-owned franchise.
Because of these changes, the Spruce Kings will likely travel less, play fewer games, and play them less often. Prince George will also have to contend with possibly losing players because they may have to pay to play. Whatever happens next depends on what details they iron out, and there are still many details to iron out.