After months of practicing and preparation under a cloud of COVID uncertainty, the Trail Smoke Eaters will return to action in April.
The BCHL announced on Friday that the league will roll out a season starting the first week of April, although the details are vague and there is an opt-out option.
Smoke Eaters director of hockey operations Craig Clare confirmed that the Smoke Eaters would participate.
“The BCHL is working through a pod – home city – and those pods will be a group of three or four teams depending on the host location, and the plan is right now to play 18 games regular season.”
The likeliest scenario for Trail, although it hasn’t been confirmed, is to play in a three-team pod in Penticton that includes the Vees, Trail and Cranbrook Bucks.
The Smoke Eaters players started quarantine on Friday in their billet homes and will be unable to practice or train in their facility for two weeks. They will then travel to the host city where they will stay and play for the remainder of the season.
“It’s difficult, but that’s what was agreed upon through our league discussions and PHO, and our players and staff felt like we could do it,” said Clare.
Like many BCHL teams, the Smoke Eaters lost players to teams south of the border including captain Cody Schiavon to the NCAA University of Vermont in December and a couple 21-year-old players to junior leagues in the United States.
The abbreviated season will at least give players an opportunity to play competitive hockey and potentially be recruited by NHL and university scouts.
The BCHL 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.
The players will also undergo testing for COVID, but Clare says the Smoke Eaters look forward to competing albeit under very different circumstances.
“We met with all the players and billet families on Friday morning and made sure everyone was comfortable,” said Clare. “Obviously we knew this was a big sacrifice, the 14-day quarantine, so there was concern over that, but we spoke to each player and they felt it was something they could do.
“They’ve been working hard all year, and this is the most difficult part is the quarantine, but they are excited to get going and playing some meaningful games here.”