Port Alberni has been named one of five hubs for the BC Hockey League’s upcoming restart. Four teams from the BCHL’s Island Division will be playing all their games at the Alberni Valley Multiplex.
On March 12, the BCHL board of governors approved a shortened 2020-21 season after the Provincial Health Office (PHO) accepted the league’s proposal for a safe return to play under its COVID-19 Safety Plan.
The league will operate in a “pod” model where three to four teams will play each other in five different locations across the province. The Alberni Valley Bulldogs will play host to the Island Division Pod and will welcome the Cowichan Valley Capitals, the Nanaimo Clippers and the Victoria Grizzlies to the Alberni Valley Multiplex for an 18-game schedule.
Although the Powell River Kings are usually members of the Island Division, they will not be able to join the pod due to provincial travel restrictions.
Bulldogs president David Michaud explained that the pod was part of a joint effort between the Bulldogs and the City of Port Alberni.
“I worked with [parks, recreation and heritage manager] Willa Thorpe to make sure we were in a position to have ice available,” said Michaud. “The city really stepped up.”
Although there are still some details to be worked out when it comes to the pods, the plan is for teams to stay in their home towns when they are not playing games.
“They’ll stay at home in their billet houses, travel from rink to rink and then return,” said Michaud. “That way there will be no overnight hotel stays and no time spent in the other communities. It’s a lot of travel back and forth.”
At this time, the Alberni Valley Multiplex will not be allowing fans or spectators into the building due to PHO orders.
A Return to Play committee was formed back in the spring of 2020 after the BCHL playoffs were cancelled in the second round. Michaud has been sitting on that committee since the beginning, working to put together a plan that would have players back on the ice for the fall.
The BCHL was able to host an extended training camp in the fall, but provincial health orders delayed the start of the regular season by nearly four months. Due to the delay, BCHL teams lost many of their veteran players to other Canadian junior A hockey leagues at the BCHL’s February trade deadline.
The condensed 2020-21 season will begin the first week of April. According to the BCHL, a full schedule will be released in the coming weeks along with details on the other pod locations.
“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 in a press release. “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.”
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.
Michaud explained that although most of the Bulldogs players have been practicing together since December, the team has started a 14-day quarantine to prepare for the upcoming season starting in early April.
“I’m sure they’re looking forward to hearing the music cranked in the Multiplex and seeing someone wearing an opposition jersey lining up across the ice,” said Michaud. “I think that will be a special moment.”