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Junior hockey: BCHL teams to start extended preseason schedule this weekend

BCHL pre-season action starts Friday evening, with Salmon Arm visiting Penticton and Vernon at West Kelowna.
BCHL pre-season action starts Friday evening, with Salmon Arm visiting Penticton and Vernon at West Kelowna. Penticton Vees

The Penticton Vees are drawing up plans to win the Okanagan Cup.

Earlier this week, the B.C. Hockey League announced an exhibition tournament for four of its nine teams in the Interior Division.

The four teams – Salmon Arm, Vernon, West Kelowna and Penticton – will take part in the two-month competition that will feature 27 games.

Read more: BCHL’s Okanagan teams prepping for upcoming tournament

Preseason action starts Friday evening, with Salmon Arm visiting Penticton at 6 p.m., and Vernon at West Kelowna at 7 p.m.

On Saturday, West Kelowna visits Vernon at 6 p.m., with Penticton hosting Salmon Arm again.

“We’re playing in these four-team cohorts, so for us it’s us, West Kelowna, Vernon, Salmon Arm,” Vees president, general manager and head coach Fred Harbinson told Global News on Thursday.

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Calling it an extended training camp, the pre-season schedule means competitive hockey is back in the Valley after the league shut down the season because of coronavirus concerns in March.

Click to play video 'Back on the ice, BCHL teams open up training camps' Back on the ice, BCHL teams open up training camps
Back on the ice, BCHL teams open up training camps – Sep 9, 2020

The shutdown happened just prior to the second round of the playoffs.

The Okanagan Cup championship will take place Nov. 14, after which the BCHL will start its regular season in December.

“Put something on the line for the players and the people to get excited about,” said Harbinson.

But what if no fans are allowed in the watch the games?

“The league has come out with two-stage plan,” said West Kelowna head coach Simon Ferguson, “At this point, the announcement is there is a Plan B to continue to play.”

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Click to play video 'BC  Hockey League teams opened up training camps this week' BC Hockey League teams opened up training camps this week
BC Hockey League teams opened up training camps this week – Sep 13, 2020

That plan is a pay-to-play system, and would kick in if teams are not allowed 25 per cent capacity in their buildings. The pay-to-play system will vary from team to team.

“Each team has come up with their own plan, and it depends on the team and their organization,” said Ferguson.

The return-to-play plan still needs approval from public health authorities.

“There’s a lot of different challenges ahead of us here, just trying to make sure that our players are safe, our staff is safe,” said Harbinson.

Click to play video 'Mac’s AAA Midget hockey tournament cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic' Mac’s AAA Midget hockey tournament cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic
Mac’s AAA Midget hockey tournament cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic – Sep 23, 2020

The BCHL is also abandoning helmets with half visors this season and will be using a full-face shield that contains a splash guard.

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Despite the changes, though, the bottom line is players just want to get back to playing the game.

Said Vees forward Finlay Williams of North Vancouver: “Nothing really replicates playing with your teammates against another team.”