The top level of junior hockey in B.C. has been given the green light to play this spring — albeit without fans.
On Monday, provincial health minister Adrian Dix announced that a plan has been approved in principle for the WHL’s five B.C. teams to start what will be a highly-modified and short season.
The news comes long after other jurisdictions gave permission for WHL teams in the prairies and Washington state to begin play.
In Alberta, Central Division began play on Feb. 26. East Division play is expected to start on Friday, March 12, with the U.S. Division starting on Friday, March 19.
In B.C., the puck is slated to drop on March 26, with teams playing a 24-game season. All games will take place in two regional hubs: Kelowna and Kamloops.
“The WHL appreciates the cooperation we have received from the provincial health officer and health officials in B.C. as we work toward a safe return to play in the B.C. Division,” said WHL commissioner Ron Robison.
“With our extensive protocols and the necessary approvals now in place, we are looking forward to play beginning in the Kamloops and Kelowna hubs. We are excited to now have all four WHL divisions returning to play as it was our objective from the onset to deliver a season for all of our players.”
Kamloops will host the hometown Blazers, Vancouver Giants and Prince George Cougars. Calling Kelowna home will be the hometown Rockets and Victoria Royals.
The league said players and staff will begin self-quarantining on March 6, then will report to their respective hub centres on March 13, “where they will be required to undergo COVID-19 testing upon arrival followed by an additional quarantine period. Players and staff will then undergo a second COVID-19 test before being permitted to engage in any team activity.”
The WHL also said it will be implementing an ongoing weekly private testing strategy, and that if a team has one or more players or staff test positive for COVID-19 at any point in the season, the team will be required to suspend its activities for a minimum of 14 days.
“Enhanced screening for all WHL players, team staff and officials will also take place on a daily basis, including regular temperature screenings as well as symptom monitoring,” said the league, adding that masks must be worn by all WHL players at all times with the exception of when participating on ice for games and practices.
And, like other sports leagues, no spectators will be allowed to enter WHL facilities.
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