The B.C. Hockey League’s plan for the 2020-21 season has Geoff Grimwood’s stamp of approval.
The league announced last week that it will allow training camps to start in September, ramping up toward the regular season that begins in December and that works for the new head coach of the Cowichan Valley Capitals.
“I think everyone is all for a traditional hockey season,” he said. “This one will be a little bit different for the players and the fans, but when you tick all the boxes, I think it’s going to be a successful plan.”
Grimwood said three factors needed to be considered as the league prepares to return during the COVID-19 pandemic: the health and safety of players and everyone else involved, what’s best for players in terms of development, and what’s best for the organizations within the league.
“When you combine those three factors, I really like what the BCHL has come up with,” he said.
When the plan was announced, the BCHL was still awaiting final approval from the Provincial Health Office.
“We’ve been having discussions with the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture since March around a safe return to play,” said BCHL Commissioner Chris Hebb. “The PHO has indicated to us that waiting until December gives us the best chance at ensuring we have an uninterrupted season, while also maximizing the amount of regular-season games we’ll be able to play.”
Instead of whittling down from the usual 40-man training camp, the Caps will essentially look like their regular-season roster when they start camp on Sept. 14. After Oct. 2, and in accordance with Phase 3 of viaSport BC’s Return to Play model they will play a series of 12 exhibition games against other Island Division teams. According to Grimwood, standings and statistics will be kept for the exhibitions, which will be broadcast on HockeyTV.com, just like regular-season contests. Toward the end of November, the Island teams will play a playoff-style tournament.
“I think they’ve done a good job of coming up with something for the players that won’t feel too different,” Grimwood said.
From what Grimwood has been told, the regular season, beginning on Dec. 1, will consist of about 44 to 48 games, a little shorter than the 58-game slate the league has played for the last seven years.
“It’s still pretty substantial,” the coach said. “It’s better than I was expecting.”
The championship should be awarded by May 31.
“Our players are really excited about the concept,” Grimwood said. “I’ve got good feedback from everybody. They’re excited about the prospect of coming back.”
The full schedule will be announced later on. The pushback to Dec. 1 aligns with the NHL’s plan to start their 2020-21 season, the BCHL explained.
“The reality is that, for us to be able to operate, we need to have fans in our buildings,” said Graham Fraser, chairman of the league’s board of directors. “It became clear from our discussions with the PHO that the best way to accomplish this would be to delay the start of our season to give them time to assess the effects of a potential second wave of COVID-19 during flu season.”
The beauty of the plan, in Grimwood’s view, is that if the BCHL gets the go-ahead from the province to proceed with the regular-season in September or October, they can always bring the starting date ahead.
“They’ve put the goalposts further down the field with the possibility of moving them forward,” he commented. “I don’t think there’s a guarantee for any [sports leagues], but they’ve got a plan to gate care of the various possibilities, and I think they’ve done a good job.
“I give a lot of credit to the BCHL for coming up with something that will actually work.”
As far as the Capitals roster goes, Grimwood says fans can expect a few more additions before September. Recruiting has been different this summer because of uncertainty about when and how some leagues will move forward, but the BCHL’s current plan should help.
The Caps will be holding their rookie ID camp at the Cowichan Arena on Aug. 14-16 for players born between 2002 and 2005. Typically held in spring, this year’s event was bumped back because of COVID-19. Numbers will be limited for social distancing purposes. Watch cowichancapitals.com for more information.