Three junior hockey teams have had their upcoming seasons waylaid by the coronavirus pandemic wrecking ball.
This week, the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League held a dispersal draft after three of its franchises opted to go dark for the 2020-21 season.
The 100 Mile House Wranglers and Beaver Valley Nitehawks in B.C., plus the Spokane Braves in Washington state won’t be fielding teams for the upcoming season.
“Given the current state of the COVID pandemic we cannot justify to our fans, sponsors, community, volunteers, billet families, players, and coaching staff that we can reasonably put together a safe and enjoyable product on the ice,” Wranglers president Greg Aiken said in a statement on Thursday.
“Our organization relies on fans being at our games.”
On Thursday, the KIJHL announced that it will begin action on Friday, Nov. 13 with 17 teams playing 30-game seasons that will end Feb. 26.
“We’re excited to be able to confirm a start date and season format as we solidify our preparations to drop the puck in November,” KIJHL commissioner Jeff Dubois said on the league’s website.
“The current restrictions on sport have presented a number of difficult, but necessary hurdles as we all work towards being able to provide a safe and healthy environment for our players, staff, volunteers and fans.”
The league said provincial guidelines allowing gatherings of just 50 people “are making it impossible to have fans in our buildings. KIJHL teams have had to play for a season that will begin without spectators.”
“There have been, and continue to be, a number of circumstances that have put significant financial pressure on our clubs, but our goal throughout this process has been to do everything within our control to ensure that KIJHL hockey can return safely this fall,” said Dubois.
The league said among other changes, teams will be playing in groups consisting of a maximum of four teams, with each group changing at various points over three stages.
The regular-season schedule will be released on Sept. 25.
As for the dispersal draft, only Canadian players were selected. Americans were excluded because of cross-border travel concerns, which is why the Spokane Braves are not competing this season.
“After much consideration, we have elected to suspend operations for the 2020-21 season due to the uncertainty surrounding the U.S.-Canada border,” the Braves said in a statement.
“We look forward to returning to the ice for our 50th season in the KIJHL in 2021-22.”
In an interview with the Spokesman-Review newspaper, Braves coach Mike Bay said “I have no idea when the border’s gonna reopen. It just sucks.”