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Junior hockey: Provincial election may slow return for WHL’s B.C. teams, Kelowna Rockets

The Kelowna Rockets dressing room sits empty.
The Kelowna Rockets dressing room sits empty. Travis Lowe

It’s been six months since the Kelowna Rockets last took to the ice.

Back in March, the Western Hockey League cancelled its season due to COVID-19 concerns. That decision that cost Kelowna the chance to host and possibly hoist the 2020 Memorial Cup.

Fast forward six months and the Rockets are still suffering from those same COVID concerns.

Click to play video 'Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton on the WHL’s decision to pause the regular season' Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton on the WHL’s decision to pause the regular season
Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton on the WHL’s decision to pause the regular season
“We’re on the outside looking in on a lot of things right now,” team president and general manager Bruce Hamilton told Global News on Wednesday.As chair of the WHL’s board of directors, Hamilton is waiting to hear if the WHL will be given the go-ahead by provincial governments to start its 2020-21 season.Running a junior hockey franchise is all about costs, and the WHL is a premier league for developing junior hockey talent.Hamilton says costs at this level are enormous and there is no way a pay-to-play system would ever cover them.
Click to play video 'Lethbridge Hurricanes GM reacts to WHL delaying season start date' Lethbridge Hurricanes GM reacts to WHL delaying season start date
Lethbridge Hurricanes GM reacts to WHL delaying season start date

So the WHL is hoping it’ll be allowed some spectators if and when the puck drops next season.

“I think if we were given the opportunity to have 50 per cent (attendance), it would give us a chance to cut our losses somewhat,” Hamilton said.

“But our budget — with a 6,000 seat arena — needs to be over 5,000 people to make it work.”

With that in mind, the WHL is hopeful it can start a 68-game schedule on Dec. 4.

“We’ve got a return-to-play protocol that has been worked on all summer. That’s in the hands of all the governments in the west now,” Hamilton said.

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Click to play video 'Junior hockey: After 29 years, the Kelowna Rockets’ longest employee steps down' Junior hockey: After 29 years, the Kelowna Rockets’ longest employee steps down
Junior hockey: After 29 years, the Kelowna Rockets’ longest employee steps down
However, provincial politics may take more than just two minutes for delay of game when it comes to seeing B.C. Division teams back in action.“This election … we are certainly not an item that would be on one of the burners right now,” Hamilton said.So, for now, the Rockets’ dressing room is quiet.Skates and helmets hang in empty lockers and the stick rack is as empty as Prospera Place itself.Hamilton hopes that when the WHL does receive the go-ahead from public health officials, the community will rally around the team.