The Penticton Vees had two players leave the team for the USHL last week. Photo: Jim Bailey.

The Penticton Vees had two players leave the team for the USHL last week. Photo: Jim Bailey.

BCHL to wait out health order as players fly south

U.S. born players in the BCHL are leaving teams and heading south for remainder of the season

The recent provincial health order may spell the beginning of the end of a BCHL season.

The extended COVID protocols coupled with the increasing number of players leaving their BCHL teams and heading south for junior leagues in the United States is leaving a mark.

The United States Hockey League (USHL), the North American Hockey League (NAHL), and the National Collegiate Development Conference (NCDC) have been playing regular season games since October.

According to the BCHL Network, more than a dozen players, most U.S. born, left BCHL teams last week including Penticton Vees defenceman Owen Murray to the USHL Green Bay Gamblers and forward Matteo Constantini to Sioux City Musketeers.

“Our players chose the BCHL as the best league for their development, but COVID-19 and the restrictions in B.C. have forced them to look elsewhere,” explained Jesse Adamson, BCHL content services coordinator. “Hockey Canada has protections in place that would keep Canadian players in Canada, but Americans are being recruited to play in the U.S. as long as they are following specific protocols between Hockey Canada and USA Hockey.”

The Nanaimo Clippers suffered one of the biggest losses as captain Kyler Kovich joined the Tri-City Storm of the USHL.

The Powell River Kings found out from an article in the Minot Daily News that veteran forwards Brett Roloson and Powell River native Ethan Schmunk along with defenceman Ross Roloson had all signed with the Minot Minotaurs of the NAHL.

The NCDC’s New Jersey Hitmen coaxed Cade Alami to come over from the Surrey Eagles and Alberni Bulldogs forward Isaac MacLeod.

Eagles forward Kenny Riddett left for the Islanders Hockey Club, along with goalie Brandon Milberg of the Langley Rivermen, the same NCDC team that Trail Smoke Eaters forward Connor Sweeney went to play for last month.

D-man Luke Busby, 18, of the Coquitlam Express went to the NAHL Maine Nordiques, and 19-year-old defenceman Pat Lawn bid farewell to the West Kelowna Warriors for the Connecticut Jr. Rangers of the NCDC.

Vernon Vipers goaltender Reilly Herbst is hoping to find a spot with Dubuque of the USHL after being released from the NAHL Lone Star.

Related read: Smoke Eaters prepared for start, whenever it happens

To offset the players exit, BCHL teams continue to recruit and add players from the U18 AAA and Junior B ranks.

“At the end of the day, this is a decision that the players and their families make, but we still intend to play this year and any player that leaves for another league in the U.S. will not be able to come back for the 2020-21 season.”

Following the extension of viaSport’s Phase 2 play to Feb. 5, the BCHL announced its commitment to wait it out and have a season, if possible, in February. However, if extended further, the prospect of a season diminishes significantly.

“We do not yet have a drop-dead date as for when the latest we would be able to start a season, so no, Feb. 5 is not currently considered a last-ditch effort,” said Adamson. “Obviously, if these extensions continue, we would have to look at what that date would be, but we are not at that point yet.”

If the league gets a go-ahead, Adamson says teams would likely play a schedule between 20 and 30 games, with a regional focus. With Wenatchee Wild suspending their season, the remainder of the 17 BCHL teams are located in BC, and played close to 90 games in a cohort of four teams for the two-month exhibition season in October and November.

Yet, the BCHL and its teams have suffered significant financial losses, and if the league starts in February, with no fans in the stands, team expenses will only increase, leaving teams even more fiscally challenged and potentially unable to participate.

“No teams have indicated to us that they are in danger of shutting down,” said Adamson. “That being said, the financial strain this is putting on our teams is significant, so it remains a possibility going forward.”

The Western Hockey League (WHL) announced last week that it was also committed to having a 24-game season.

Yet, the WHL has an even more daunting task, with teams in all four western provinces, Washington State and Oregon.

“The Western Hockey League is committed to providing a season for WHL players,” said commissioner Ron Robison. “This commitment ensures WHL players will receive the opportunity to compete at the highest level in the system and continue to pursue their hockey goals in the world’s finest development league for junior hockey players.”

The action will potentially give exposure to players eligible for the 2021 NHL Draft, and the respective NHL organizations more insight into their draft selections.

Smokies notes: Trail Smoke Eaters sent 20-year-old forward Justyn Gurney to the Coquitlam Express for future considerations. The Delta product played 175 games in the WHL with Calgary, Regina and Everett, scoring 10 goals and 31 points, and 172 penalty minutes over four seasons.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Pioneer Arena is closing for the season. Photo: John Boivin
Castlegar’s Pioneer Arena and Nelson Civic Centre closing for season

RDCK is closing the ice at two of its arenas due to financial concerns related to COVID-19

A juvenile sturgeon in a B.C. rearing facility. The wild population in the Upper Columbia is estimated at 1,100 individuals, enhanced with roughly 5,500 hatchery fish. (file photo)
B.C.’s Upper Columbia sturgeon endure long battle with local extinction

Decades of monitoring and intervention is ongoing to save the prehistoric fish

Interior Health update. File photo.
86 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Interior Health

The new deaths are from Heritage Square, a long-term care facility in Vernon

RCMP responded to a report early Friday morning of a suspect firing a gun at a Salmo home. Photo: Black Press
RCMP arrest woman who fired shots at Salmo home

The woman allegedly discharged a firearm early Friday morning

Summit Ski Hill had a delayed start to the season because of warm temperatures. Photo: Summit Ski Hill
Late season start frustrating for Nakusp ski hill

Summit Ski Hill only just opened Jan. 14

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

A 17-year-old snowmobiler used his backcountry survival sense in preparation to spend the night on the mountain near 100 Mile House Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021 after getting lost. (South Cariboo Search and Rescue Facebook photo)
Teen praised for backcountry survival skills after getting lost in B.C.’s Cariboo mountains

“This young man did everything right after things went wrong.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No place for ‘far right’ in Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole says

O’Toole condemned the Capitol attack as ‘horrifying’ and sought to distance himself and the Tories from Trumpism

A passer by walks in High Park, in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. This workweek will kick off with what’s fabled to be the most depressing day of the year, during one of the darkest eras in recent history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
‘Blue Monday’ getting you down? Exercise may be the cure, say experts

Many jurisdictions are tightening restrictions to curb soaring COVID-19 case counts

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Most Read