The BC Hockey League is returning to the ice.
The junior ‘A’ circuit announced Friday morning that its board of governors had approved a 2021 season – significantly shorter than a traditional schedule – following the Provincial Health Office accepting the league’s proposal for a “safe return to play” plan.
The shortened season will be played in a “pod” model, where three to four teams will play each other in five different locations across the province. The BCHL release did not specify what cities would serve as hubs, but in a separate announcement by the provincial government Friday afternoon, Penticton, Coquitlam, Chilliwack, Vernon and Port Alberni were listed as the hubs.
The condensed season will begin the first week of April, and a full schedule will be released “in the coming weeks” according to the league.
“After months and months of hard work behind the scenes by the league’s Return-to-Play Task Force, we are pleased to make the announcement today that the BCHL will be back on the ice to play the 2020-21 season,” said BCHL Commissioner Chris Hebb in a news release.
“This entire process has always been about our players and giving them the best chance to get back to playing games and showcasing their skills, and we have accomplished that today.”
Prior to releasing details on the return-to-play plan, the BCHL official Twitter account posted a simple, two-word message: “We’re back.”
— BC Hockey League (@GoBCHL) March 12, 2021
“Sports are important for young people’s development and we understand how hard the time away from friends and teammates has been,” said B.C. Minister of Health Adrian Dix in a release.
“I know that Dr. Henry and her team are working hard to determine how to safely return more leagues back to the field of play this spring.”
The BCHL has hired a chief medical officer who will oversee all COVID-19 safety protocols for the five-week season – including testing and a quarantine period for players and team staff.
“It’s been a long road for everyone involved with the league since we were shut down in November, but we are grateful that we get a chance to finish what we started and get our young athletes back on the ice,” said Graham Fraser, chair of the league’s board of governors.
The BCHL’s 2020-21 season has been delayed numerous times.
Last fall, teams – except for the Powell River Kings and U.S.-based Wenatchee Wild – played a handful of exhibition games within cohort groups, which the league deemed a “training season,” and the regular season was set to open Dec. 2. That date was pushed until Dec. 8 due to health orders, and then pushed forward into January and February as provincial COVID-19 restrictions were held in place.
Due to the continued closure of the Canada-U.S. border, Wenatchee is not part of the renewed season.