Major changes to the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League format for the 2020-2021 campaign were announced on Thursday.
The league will begin regular season play on Nov. 13, with 17 teams playing 30-game regular season schedules amid the pandemic, which has forced the sweeping alterations.
Beaver Valley, Spokane and 100 Mile House have opted out of the season.
“The boards of the 100 Mile House Wranglers and Beaver Valley Nitehawks have made the difficult decision to go dark for the year due to the financial impact and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, and we respect their decisions,” KIJHL commissioner Jeff Dubois said in a press release.
“The situation in Spokane is unfortunate because the Braves were fully committed to competing in their 50th KIJHL season, but ultimately it was determined between the club and league to suspend operations due to ongoing travel restrictions between Canada and the U.S.”
KIJHL teams are planning to play without spectators in arenas and the revenue they provide.
“Current provincial government guidelines state that no more than 50 people can be present in an arena, including players, coaches and officials, making it impossible to have fans in our buildings,” notes the press release.
Traditional divisions have been nixed and will be replaced by rotating cohorts of a maximum of four teams.
The schedule will be revealed on Sept. 25.
Matt Kolle, general manager of the Kamloops Storm, was reached for comment on Thursday morning, first asked for reaction on the three teams that have opted out.
“100 Mile, my knowledge is it is a safety concern, about bringing players into the community, worried about contributing to an outbreak,” Kolle said. “If that’s where they stand, I 100 per cent support a team taking a year off for that reason. Spokane, that’s something they can’t control.
“Beaver Valley, I’m not familiar with what happened there yet. It just occurred last night [Wednesday night].”
Kolle said the Nitehawks’ exodus leaves Dubois and schedule makers with work to do.
“As of yesterday, we had some cohorts made and we were starting to look at schedules,” Kolle said. “Today, it’s a different story with Beaver Valley opting out. We’ve got to be creative.”
Kolle spoke to KTW in March, before the shutdown, and said his plan for growth centres around lowering player fees (among the highest in the league) by improving in other areas, such as attendance, hosting player camps and sponsorship.
The pandemic forced him to call an audible.
The Storm are charging players $9,800 to play this season, an increase from $8,000 in 2019-2020.
“I recognized back then [in March], or our organization did, that there is probably not going to be fans in the stands and our sponsorship is going to be down with the current situation all these business are trying to operate under,” Kolle said. “For me, as a governor and being responsible for team function, there is a lot of stress off me right now because I know we’re financially set to make it through the season and put a first-class product in front of our players.”
Kolle is hopeful the government restriction on maximum gathering sizes can be relaxed.
“I’m one of those people asking the government, ’Come on, let’s relax things, let’s get people in the stands,’” Kolle said. “It would be a positive for the environment right now. Recreation, art, music — these are all things that create a healthy environment.”
A shift in Storm headquarters — back to McArthur Island Sport and Event Centre in 2020-2021 after a failed stint at Memorial Arena — was to bring a boon in off-ice success that would eventually lead to victories and sustained franchise health, Kolle told KTW before the pandemic hit.
Kolle forecast between 300 and 400 fans per game (worth an extra $30,000 to $40,000 per season, he said) and noted North Shore businesses were eager to form sponsorship partnerships.
Steve Gainey will return as the Storm’s head coach for the 2020-2021 season. Assistant coaches include Cody Lockwood and Andrew Fisher, who is also the club’s assistant general manager. Peter Friedel is the team trainer.
HOST A PLAYER
The Storm are in search of billet families. Those interested can call Kolle at 250-319-3738.