The Prince George Spruce Kings are eager to drop the puck, however, provincial health officials continue to have other ideas.
BC Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has extended the current restrictions on social gatherings and events for another 30 days to January 8, which further puts into flux when the BCHL regular season can officially begin.
Earlier this month, the province announced all adult team sports were prohibited and that any youth sports must follow viaSport’s Phase 2 guidelines.
Essentially, all indoor and outdoor sports played by adults, including hockey, are suspended. It means all BCHL players who fit in the 19 and 20-year-old category are not allowed to practice with their teammates.
Spruce Kings general manager Mike Hawes states this is the only order the league’s northernmost franchise is opposed to.
“The fact that 19 and 20-year-old players can’t practice with us, she (Henry) has grouped all of those players in with the rest of adult hockey players in the province and I think she missed the boat on that one,” Hawes explained.
Tough day telling our @SpruceKings athletes & staff that our program is on pause until the new year. While I respect the job being done by the PHO, this pause was a result of their ill informed decision preventing our 19 & 20 year old players from participating. #eliteathletes
— Mike Hawes (@Hawzy1) December 9, 2020
Furthermore, it means an early holiday break for the vast majority of players currently on the Spruce Kings roster.
“Because of the age restriction and the fact that 50 percent of our team is made up of that age group, the majority of our players are heading home for an extended holiday break.”
The boys in the bubble?
With another wrench thrown into the plans of a BCHL season, league brass and the Return to Play Committee, which includes Hawes, are eyeing a potential bubble format. Penticton is one location being discussed.
It’s a plan that will need PHO approval but hopes to be similar what to the NHL and NBA accomplished in centres like Orlando, Toronto, and Edmonton earlier this year.
“I am not going to comment too much on where that process is at but it is certainly a concept that the Return to Play task force has had some in-depth conversations (about),” said Hawes. “(It) is an idea we are considering.”
According to Gregg Drinnan’s Taking Note blog, one scenario sees all players spend January 15-29 in quarantine, then spend the 29-31 moving into the bubble.
This would mean all 17 teams play a 20-to-24 game schedule spanning February 1 to March 22. The Fred Page Cup playoffs start immediately the next day and conclude less than two weeks later on April 2.
In the plan, all games are at the South Okanagan Events Centre, which is home to the Penticton Vees.
Another bubble concept that has the attention of the BCHL is the World Junior Hockey Championship, scheduled for December 25 to January 5 in Edmonton.
“There are a lot of ideas and concepts in that hub and bubble that if we were able to move forward with one that we would transition into ours. Their success can play a big role in our potential plan moving forward,” added Hawes.
Although the cohort-based model used during the extended training camp is the league’s first choice for starting the 2020-21 season, the bubble concept is one that must be on the table.
“It might come down to that, and that is going to be determined by the Provincial Health Office and Dr. Bonnie Henry, and what she decides come January 8 is going to dictate a lot.”
The Spruce Kings had a pre-season record of 4-2-0-1 when the remainder of exhibition games were kyboshed.