The Trail Smoke Eaters took to the ice for an early morning pre-game skate in Penticton on Friday.
Penticton is one of five ‘pod’ cities for the BCHL’s abbreviated season this year, which will see each team play 20 games within that bubble.
Along with Trail, the South Okanagan Events Centre will play host to the Cranbrook Bucks, the league’s newest expansion franchise.
But tonight’s South Okanagan ‘pod’ season opener will pit the Smoke Eaters against Fred Harbinson’s hometown Vees.
“Coming out of quarantine and just the last few days of practice have been closer to back to normal,” said Vees head coach Fred Harbinson.
“I’m just looking forward to seeing our guys come out and try to execute in a real game tonight.”
Vernon is the other Okanagan ‘pod’ city where the Salmon Arm Silverbacks and West Kelowna Warriors will play.
The pod hosts, the Vernon Vipers, will face off against the Silverbacks to open the season tonight at Kal Tire Place.
“It’s really exciting for everyone to hopefully, you know, get this off to a good start and get going, and get a little bit back to normal and playing some hockey games,” said Vipers head coach Jason McKee.
These games are of paramount importance to players looking to further their hockey careers.
“Going out there and showing your abilities, and working together with your teammates, is just everything, I think,” said Salmon Arm Silverbacks’ captain Hunter Sansbury.
“Just to be able to go on the ice and show the product as a team is really everything for us.”
But given the recent suspension of all Kelowna Rockets hockey activity following 6 positive COVID-19 tests, the BCHL is well aware of the need to be vigilant against contracting coronavirus.
“Definitely, there is not a lot of room for error and strict protocols are in place and we’ve got to follow them,” said West Kelowna Warriors president Chris Laurie.
Laurie’s Warriors get an extra day to hone their skills before heading to Vernon on Saturday to battle the Silverbacks. West Kelowna will then play the hometown Snakes on Sunday.
Meanwhile, in Penticton, cardboard cutouts of fans are already in the stands — but no one other than BCHL staff will be allowed in for league games.
However junior hockey fans can stream all the action live online for a fee at BCHLTV.ca.
In related news, Shaw Communications says it will be broadcasting all games being played in the Penticton pod.
“It’s a great opportunity for our fans to have the chance to catch the Vees on TV and be able to follow the team through the Shaw Community Spotlight,” said Trevor Miller, the Vees’ director of broadcasting and communications.
“This will allow anyone with Shaw cable to have the chance to tune in and feel like they are in the rink with the team.”
Shaw Community Spotlight can be found on channel 10 or on Shaw Blue Curve on channel 105.