It was a 20-game B.C. Hockey League season for the Vernon Vipers and the 15 other teams that took part in the league’s pod schedule.
But according to Vipers’ head coach and general manager Jason McKee, everyone’s mindset was that the shortened season was like any regular year.
“The players came to win. I wanted to win,” said McKee, who guided his club to top spot in the Vernon pod with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks and West Kelowna Warriors with a 13-5-1-1 record, good for fifth overall in the 16-team pod league (Langley Rivermen opted out; Wenatchee Wild did not play due to travel restrictions).
“Playing 20 games in 30 nights, sometimes we weren’t at our best but there’s going to be fatigued. Some nights we were especially good when it mattered. The games were very competitive.”
Vipers players and personnel followed the COVID protocol, and being a host pod put a lot of extra items on the Vernon organization’s to-do list. McKee said a lot of people did a lot of great things to help pull it off.
“The sponsorship was there even though we had no fans in the building, and the billets played a large part. Without them, the season doesn’t happen,” said McKee. “The guys were very thankful and thrilled to win the pod. That was our goal at the start. It’s always nice to win that last game. We were in a competitive pod with two very good teams.”
Other pod winners included the Penticton Vees (Penticton pod), Victoria Grizzlies (Alberni Valley pod), Prince George Spruce Kings (Chilliwack pod) and Surrey Eagles (Coquitlam/Burnaby pod).
McKee will next look to start preparations for what a 2021-22 season may look like.
“We’re hoping to have a player identification camp in June but that will depend on the provincial health order,” he said.
Vernon loses four players to graduation: goalie James Porter, Jr., defenceman Hunter Donahoe and forwards Tyler Carpendale and Seth Bafaro. Every other player is eligible to return.
The league holds its annual general meeting later this month and will celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2021-22. The BCHL will provide further details over the summer about how it plans to celebrate its past and pay tribute to the past 60 years.
• The league announced it implemented frequent COVID-19 testing of all players and team staff in order to make the season as safe as possible for all involved. This included an initial quarantine period prior to the start of the season and then weekly testing until the end of the schedule.
In total, approximately 2,200 total tests were administered.
The league also hired a Chief Medical Officer in Dr. Bob McCormack who worked directly with the Provincial Health Office (PHO) as a voice for the league with medical expertise. The hiring of Dr. McCormack was also a significant reason why the league’s COVID-19 Safety Plan was accepted by the PHO.
Another important aspect of the BCHL’s safety plan was the introduction of Compliance Officers at each pod. These were volunteers who were independent of the league and its teams and were tasked with overseeing the health and safety procedures of the season on and off the ice.