(This article was originally published on Feb. 17, 2021)
There have been calls on Hockey Canada recently to give an extra year of eligibility for junior hockey players born in 2000. It would apply to junior hockey players in Major Junior, junior A, and junior B hockey leagues across Canada.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic wiped out both the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons for several teams. COVID-19 has also put other teams and leagues on pause, with the BC Hockey League being no different.
The regular season has been delayed three times due to the Provincial Health Officer extending COVID-19 restrictions. As a result, several players departed the league for American junior A teams, including Victoria Grizzlies sniper Cody Monds, who now plays for the Fargo Force in the US Hockey League.
This petition made me wonder something. What are the merits of allowing players like Kaddoura an extra year of eligibility? And what are the drawbacks?
The trickle down effect of COVID-19
For starters, COVID-19 has affected the BCHL differently than a number of other leagues. The Wenatchee Wild opted out of the 2020-21 season because of the continued border closures. The current health restrictions prevent teams like Wenatchee from crossing the border without quarantining every time.
Other leagues like the Western Hockey League have announced restarts for the teams in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and the US. The WHL teams in British Columbia are still waiting for approval from the PHO. Hub Cities and bubbles are just several proposals considered by several leagues, including the BCHL.
BCHL’s COVID-19 rules encourage players from congregating after a whistle has been blown to reduce the risk of any potential spread. All are wearing the ‘fish bowl’ cage, also mandated by the league | #CityOfPG @PGMatters pic.twitter.com/8x8m59VHmd
— Kyle Balzer (@KyleBalzer) November 8, 2020
Within the BCHL, they successfully operated for seven weeks before pausing. They didn’t allow teams to play outside their cohorts without quarantining for two weeks and made sure the players wore protective gear. They showed it was possible to operate during a pandemic like this.
The case for allowing players back
Because of the BCHL extended training camp, several players received NCAA scholarships. Players like Alberni Valley Bulldogs forward Ethan Bono, who committed to Merrimack College on Feb. 11.
Other players like Victoria Grizzlies defensemen Isack Bandu committed to Northern Michigan University while Nanaimo defensemen Trevor LeDonne committed to the University of St. Thomas.
These players and others received NCAA commitments while many others have not. The Powell River Kings haven’t had any players commit to NCAA colleges thus far this season.
The city of Powell River is in Vancouver Coastal Health, so their restrictions, along with issues around the four former Island Division teams creating a cohort, prevented them from playing a single game during the extended training season.
Likewise, border restrictions prevented the Wenatchee Wild from playing any games at all. The Wild couldn’t cross the border without quarantining for 14 days each time. While they have some players committed to NCAA schools, it’s a small number compared to teams like the Grizzlies.
Then there are several players who departed for American teams. Players like Monds already had NCAA commitments and their schools likely didn’t want them remaining idle. The schools would rather have them play. As a 2001-born player, Monds also technically has another year of junior hockey eligibility already.
As for the 2000-born players, it made me wonder if they had an extra year of eligibility, would they have stayed?
We would like to thank @monds_19 for everthing he has done for the Victoria Grizzlies and we wish him the best of luck in his future hockey endeavors. Cody will be truly missed! #Goodluck#WeAreGrizzlies pic.twitter.com/kJAI89PkDS
— Victoria Grizzlies (@BCHLGrizzlies) January 7, 2021
That’s a difficult question to answer. I can see many of these players wanting to move on from junior A and start their higher education. Other players without NCAA commits in their final year might be tempted to leave for American-run teams.
Having that extra year might entice players to stay. Those who can’t find another team to take them might jump at the chance to play another year. However, this leads to an issue that might affect other players born after 2000.
The case against allowing players back
Within the BCHL, teams are allowed only six 20-year-old players on their rosters. Within the WHL, teams are only allowed three 20-year-olds. The simple truth is that allowing an extra year for those born in 2000 means taking away a roster spot from a younger player.
Nothing about this situation is fair. If the pandemic hadn’t occurred, this article wouldn’t exist. Leagues like the BCHL can only do so much under these circumstances. It’s a minor miracle that they were able to have that extended training season at all.
For some 2000-born BCHL players, this may be all they ever get. For incoming 16-year-olds, they may not have as many opportunities to crack a BCHL roster.
The pandemic already forced several teams in different leagues to suspend operations. It’s unclear when these teams resume operating, if at all. There simply aren’t as many roster spots available across Canada as before.
— KIJHL (@KIJHL) September 4, 2020
Several teams, including the Grizzlies and Kings, are still recruiting new players for next season. What happens to those new players if 2000-born players are allowed back?
If Hockey Canada approves the use of 21-year-olds in junior hockey, then I argue it should be for the 2021-22 season only. COVID-19 is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Once things go back to normal, that one-year exemption should end.
Those who have missed out because of the pandemic should get another chance to showcase their skills., but it should be temporary. Otherwise, it would come at the expense of younger players.
It’s one of the unfortunate effects of the pandemic on sports and specifically junior hockey. The fact that no matter what decision is made about player eligibility for next season, the situation is unfair to one age group or another – and it’s no one’s fault at all.