B.C.’s five WHL teams reporting to hubs in Kelowna and Kamloops on Saturday and will start games in empty rinks on March 26

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The B.C. Hockey League hasn’t given up on having a season yet.

League commissioner Chris Hebb said late Tuesday that his 17-team circuit was still waiting to hear whether Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry was going to sign off on their return-to-play plan. Hebb had discussions with health officials through the weekend.

The BCHL had set last Wednesday as a deadline for word on whether they could start playing games again. They had exhibition games in empty arenas from September through November but were limited to only practices when Henry brought in restrictions to combat rising COVID-19 cases.

There were plans to have a BCHL board of governors vote on Friday on whether to cancel the season or not, but that was called off.

The fact that the BCHL and the B.C.’s five Western Hockey League clubs had banded together to ask the provincial government for $9.5 million came up on Wednesday in the legislature, and when asked about it Premier John Horgan said: “We understand the issue. We’ve been working on it for a number of months. I regrettably have to say, ‘Stay tuned’ at this point.”

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Hebb didn’t have an update on the financial assistance on Tuesday.

While they’re teamed up to ask the government for funding, the BCHL and the WHL’s return-to-play plans are separate.

Henry has agreed to the WHL’s plan, which sees the Vancouver Giants, Kelowna Rockets, Kamloops Blazers, Prince George Cougars and Victoria Royals playing a 24-game season out of hubs in Kamloops and Kelowna beginning on March 26. The Giants, Cougars and Royals will stay in hotels and all the teams will pay for additional testing.

The Giants, Cougars and Blazers will be based in Kamloops. The Royals and Rockets will be based out of Kelowna.

The teams will only play against the other B.C. clubs. The Giants will play 18 games in Kamloops and six in Kelowna. They open March 26 against the Blazers in Kamloops.

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Games will be played with no fans in the stands, like the NHL.

Players and staff began self-quarantining last Saturday and they’re slated to report to either Kamloops or Kelowna this Saturday for COVID-19 test and an additional quarantine period.

B.C. is the last of the four WHL regions to resume. The Alberta teams have already started playing games. The league announced Monday that it had administered 1,554 tests for COVID-19 across the league and had no positive test results.

The last BCHL plan made public had teams grouped in five “pods,” as the league was calling them, and had each one playing out of a single arena but had the players remaining at their billet homes. There was no additional testing in that plan.

The BCHL’s exhibition season was played in regional cohorts. They announced two COVID-19 cases during that time.

The WHL hadn’t had its teams reconvene until their return-to-play plans were signed off by health authorities. The BCHL teams have been together since the fall. The clubs have had the players pay a fee to help with costs. The fee has never been made public.

Meanwhile, two Junior B leagues called off the remainder of their seasons this week, with the 13-team Pacific Junior Hockey League and the nine-team Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League both announcing that they weren’t going to resume play when restrictions opened up.

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PJHL commissioner Trevor Alto said that five teams in his league will continue to practise and those teams could “arrange something on their own,” in regards to exhibition games with one another if restrictions ease in time.

Alto said that many of the arenas the league uses are closing in on taking the ice out and getting ready for lacrosse season. As well, Alto said that teams didn’t want to keep the players in limbo any longer.

“It was pretty clear to all of us that it was time to move on from this season,” said Alto, adding that the decision was unanimous amongst the league’s governors.

The 17-team Junior B Kootenay International Junior Hockey League announced the cancellation of its season on Feb. 6.

SEwen@postmedia.com

twitter.com/SteveEwen


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