The Cranbrook Bucks will officially debut this year, following the BCHL’s approval of a shortened season after the province accepted the league’s proposal for a return to play plan.
The provincial junior hockey league will have a five-week season starting in April, including a two-week quarantine and testing period that will feature five ‘pod’ locations across the province where three or four teams will play against each other.
The provincial government confirmed those ‘pod’ cities would include Penticton, Coquitlam, Chilliwack, Port Alberni and Vernon.
“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 Chris Hebb, BCHL Commissioner. “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.”
The Bucks, which launched as a BCHL expansion franchise in the fall of 2019, had been gearing up for it’s inaugural season last September, however, league operations were cancelled last spring during playoffs due to pandemic concerns.
While it’s been a trying and unpredictable year for many reasons, Bucks majority owner Nathan Lieuwen says the players have been resilient.
“It’s pretty exciting,” said Lieuwen. “Our players have been so patient, and all they want to do is get on the ice and show their stuff and I just couldn’t be more happy for our players.”
“…We have a resilient bunch of young men down in that dressing room doing a great job being patient and keeping their spirits up and being positive and I’m just glad we were able to reward them in some way with a season here.”
While it’s unlikely that there will be in-game fan attendance, the BCHL will have an online broadcast option for anyone wishing to watch the games.
Safety protocols required by the province include health screening and testing, limited travel, and a pre-season quarantine plan. Those same protocols also ensure limited interactions between players, coaches and staff from the BCHL, and the communities that the teams will play in.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our lives in countless ways. To keep each other safe, we have had to limit activities that are fundamental to our normal way of life,” said Premier John Horgan, in a press release. “While we are not out of the woods yet, there is hope on the horizon and we are now ready to, gradually and safely, resume some of these activities. That includes getting young people back on the ice this season.”
Even though the regular season has been delayed several times last year, there was an extended exhibition period during October and November where the Bucks faced off against the Trail Smoke Eaters seven times, the Prince George Spruce Kings twice, and once against the Merritt Centennials.
“We want to thank the PHO, the Chief Medical Health Officers and regional public health staff for working with us on our proposal over the past few weeks and getting it to a point that both sides felt was safe,” said Chairman of the BCHL Board of Governors Graham Fraser. “We proved in our extended exhibition season in the fall that our COVID-19 Safety Plan was effective after playing 89 games with zero transmissions, and we look forward to working within that system again.”
“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.”
The BCHL is a premier league for hockey players seeking hockey scholarships at post-secondary schools in the National Collegiate Athletic Association and other university institutions across North America. The pandemic has affected older players, in particular, who hope to make an impression on collegiate scouts and earn scholarships.
“At the end of the day, our league is all about getting players scholarships and moving them on to the next level to allow them to pursue their athletic and educational goals,” said BCHL Executive Director Steven Cocker. “With no games since November, it has been difficult for these players to get noticed by college programs and, as a result, we’ve seen a significant effect on the number of college commitments in the league this year. With a shortened season now in place, we are thrilled to get our players back in the spotlight and give them the attention they deserve.”
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