The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League has delayed the start of its season to Nov. 13 when it plans to run a 30-game campaign with three teams opting out and no fans in the stands.
The Junior B league announced Thursday it would move forward with just 17 teams competing after the Beaver Valley Nitehawks, 100 Mile House Wranglers and Spokane Braves decided to take the season off.
KIJHL commissioner Jeff Dubois said the Canada-United States border closure keeps Spokane from taking part, while the COVID-19 pandemic’s financial impact on teams was a factor in Beaver Valley and 100 Mile House deciding to sit out the season.
“We’re playing hockey,” said Dubois. “That’s the good news and hopefully things in the province here improve to the point where some of the restrictions in place now can ease up over the course of the season and we’ll get fans.”
Dubois said the absence of three teams plus provincial restrictions on the number of players who can compete will change the KIJHL’s structure of five teams playing in four divisions.
Instead, the league will have two cohorts of four teams and three cohorts of three teams playing each other. Dubois said the league is planning to have teams change opponents during the Christmas break and at the end of January following a required 14-day quarantine break.
“It won’t be the divisional play that teams are used to,” said Dubois, who added the league is still working on a schedule set to be released Sept. 25. The regular season will end Feb. 26, 2021, to be followed by playoffs.
The KIJHL was among the sports leagues that had to cancel its season mid-playoffs in March when B.C. entered its pandemic lockdown. The league typically starts its regular season in early September, but had planned for an Oct. 2 start this year.
Dubois said the league has told teams to plan for no fans in the stands this season, but he’s hopeful that provincial restrictions ease to allow for it at some point.
“The big thing for us is we’d really like to be in a position to get fans back in our rinks,” he said. “Obviously we’re hoping not to play a full year in front of empty buildings but that’s up to everybody in terms of how that goes over the next few months.”
If those fans do return, Dubois said they will likely notice small changes to the on-ice action.
Crackdowns on scrums around the nets, officials who steer clear of players and measures to prevent fights are being considered by BC Hockey and Hockey Canada, according to Dubois.
Meanwhile, if a player or team staff member tests positive for COVID-19 then tests would be administered to everyone within that team’s cohort. Dubois said a positive test would also shut down the cohort for 14 days without a negative tests.
“That’s one where it’s not a decision we’re making,” he said. “We will follow the guidance of the province and the regional health authority.”
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