In a three-part series, Global Okanagan is looking at how the valley’s three junior hockey leagues are trying to restart operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The series will start with the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League, which has eight teams in and around the Okanagan.
One of those teams, the Kelowna Chiefs, took to the ice on Tuesday to practice.
”It’s just nice to be on the ice and be around the guys again, and put them through their paces,” head coach Ken Law told Global News.
The Chiefs are tuning up for their Nov. 13 season opener, as the KIJHL will drop the puck this fall with fans or without.
And the decision to drop the puck came down to one thing: Revenue.
“It’s cost. Our revenue model is much different than the British Columbia Hockey League or the Western (Hockey) League,” said Chiefs owner Jason Tansem
In the KIJHL, players pay to play, and owners are gambling that will help offset losses from having no fans in the stands.
“These players come in here and they all know that it is up to them to foot a lot of the bill for the cost of the team,” Tansem said.
Still, two franchises decided not to take that bet this year, with 100 Mile House and Beaver Valley opting out of the COVID-altered season.
A third, the Spokane Braves, are also taking a pass on the 2020-21 season, but because of border travel restrictions.
But while it may look like the same game on the ice, in order to deal with social distancing needed for COVID-19, this season will be radically different.
“We are considered a cohort and we will play against two other cohorts,” explained Law.
The Chiefs’ first half of the season will be against just two other teams.
“Right up until Christmas, there will be us Summerland and Princeton,” Tansem said.
After a 14-day quarantine period during Christmas, the Chiefs will move on to a new set of three teams.
But that’s not the only COVID-19 consideration when the puck drops on the KIJHL season.
“Five players on the bench spread out so they can socially distance. Then there are Xs on the outside of the boards. This is where each player, each spare player, is going to be required to stand,” explained Tansem.
The biggest gripe from Kelowna’s players is the fact they can’t shower after a game in the dressing room
“The no showering thing,” said Chiefs forward Caleb Brown, “it’s kinda gross.”