Thursday’s announcement by provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, to extend public health restrictions on public gatherings and events until at least Feb. 5, was not what the Coquitlam Express was hoping to hear.
Tali Campbell, the team’s general manager, said he was anticipating some sort of accommodation that would allow the BC Hockey League to resume full-contact practices and scrimmages, even if competitive games against other teams are still a ways off.
Instead, the Express will continue as they have since Nov. 7. That’s when they went back to skills drills after stricter public health orders for the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal health regions forced BCHL teams in the Lower Mainland, as well as the Powell River, to suspend their modified schedules playing each other in cohorts of nearby rivals. The rest of the league’s 16 B.C.-based teams shut down their games when those orders were extended to the rest of the province Nov. 19 (the Wenatchee Wild, in Washington state, has suspended its season outright because of the ongoing closure of the Canada-U.S. border).
On Dec. 30, 19- and 20-year-old players were allowed to rejoin their junior teams when the orders were further modified to allow some sports activities for youth under 22 years of age.
Campbell said the extension of restrictions has “dampened” players’ moods as some are still fighting to secure a scholarship to an NCAA program. But, he added, at least they’re able to be on the ice, unlike other parts of Canada where escalating rates of COVID-19 infection has shut down all activity, including sports.
“It’s tough,” Campbell said. “We’ve just got to live day by day now.”
Campbell said to get through this period of suspended animation, after the players work on their skills on the ice, they’re focusing a lot of their attention towards mental health.
“More than ever, they’re a family,” he said. “They’re talking to each other, supporting each other, trying to figure out how to step forward and make the best of the situation.”
Still, Campbell added, it’s disheartening for them to see Hockey Canada pull off a successful bubble for the World Junior Hockey Championships in Edmonton recently, and the National Hockey League’s Vancouver Canucks will begin playing games next week.
“We were hoping for that same liberty, to allow the BCHL to open that door and show what we can do to get the season going,” he said.
And with the calendar now counting down toward the time of year when BCHL teams should be gearing up for the playoffs, the prospect of not being able to have a season at all becomes more real with each passing day, especially as most arenas the league’s teams operate in are converted to lacrosse in the early spring.
“We have not thrown in the towel,” Campbell said. “But at some point you have to evaluate is there even a possibility of having a season.”