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Cariboo Hockey hopes city can ‘do the right thing’ in opening arenas for sake of young athletes

Trevor Sprague says indefinite closure is disappointing for hockey hub of northern B.C.

The potential ripple effect of keeping Prince George ice arenas closed indefinitely could mean a late start to hockey season this Fall.

As COVID-19 is leading to a $9-million financial shortfall in 2021, the city said on Tuesday (July 14), usage of the rinks would be subject to strict conditions put forward by the province and viaSport BC in trying to keep up with clean facilities and sanitized for public safety.

On the ice, teams like those within Cariboo Hockey are simply left waiting on how to properly run camps, practices and games, eventually, in order to continue developing athletes out of the northern B.C. region and getting them to the next level.

“It kinda caught me off guard for our athletes in northern British Columbia that we’re not going to have ice,” said General Manager Trevor Sprague to PrinceGeorgeMatters.

“I think Mayor Lyn Hall and council, obviously, for the youth in Prince George, they’re going to do the right thing because we are the hub. For the athletes, for their mental health and for them to be the athletes they want to be, they need to use those facilities and they need to be open. They do it in Vancouver, so why wouldn’t we do it here? It’s just the times and I don’t there’s a whole lot of excuses of why we can’t get them opened up for September.”

There are six teams in Sprague’s organization with 120 total players ranging from Under-16s to Under-18s, both male and female, coming from all over the region and some from western Canada as prospects and/or affiliates for the Prince George Cougars.

In addition to playing hockey, the athletes are put in School District 57 (SD57) classrooms to earn their education, but if COVID-19 continues to keep arenas closed, Sprague believes it’ll negatively impact its programs and encourage kids to go play elsewhere.

“They’re going to go to academies, they’re going to go to other communities in B.C. that have private rinks open that they can run they’re programs in based on viaSport and their COVID-19 plan. That’s happening right now in the Okanagan. They just had a breakout of COVID-19 but hey, they’re all in the rinks! They’re all going and we haven’t had any breakouts or symptoms here for the last 35 or so days. So probably the best place to play hockey in Canada right now is in Prince George, so let’s hope that people come to their senses and get things opened up.”

A petition circulating online and asking the City of Prince George to open its arenas echoes the same scenario of players travelling long distances to train, develop and potentially play the game with other teams.

While Sprague hopes the petition pushes officials in the right direction, he also believes it might be time to consider putting local rinks up for sale.

“Rinks are run by private companies across B.C.,” he noted.

“Maybe now's the time to start looking at that option, or maybe there’s some people in Prince George that want to buy a hockey rink. If there’s financial problems, maybe it’s time to start selling a couple of them off. Hopefully those discussions are being done and maybe a ‘for sale’ sign will come up.”

Cariboo Hockey was also scheduled to begin female hockey development camps on Aug. 4, the same day the city had tentatively scheduled to reopen its arenas prior to Tuesday’s update. 

The group was told that morning ice wouldn’t be available any more with the indefinite closure in place being put into place and fees were refunded to, what Sprague explained was, a 90 per cent sold-out camp.

Regardless of what happens in the next two months, he’s telling his athletes that patience is key during these times of uncertainty.

“You gotta look on the positive side as well. Obviously, we’re going through a lot of things in the world right now and this certainly could’ve been a positive, but I just tell the athletes to keep their heads up, keep up with their off-ice training and focus on what they can control and not worry about what they can’t control. The sun goes up every day and you can’t control that. At the end of the day, there’s not that many places in Canada that have hockey teams in major junior, junior ‘A’, the minor-league association and the Cariboo Hockey organization all sitting under one umbrella. We are a winter-sport city and we need to get things going in September.”

Sprague says he’s spoken with his coaches and staff, who’ve put together strategies earmarked for the start of school on Sept. 8, which he says includes one that hopefully can take the Cariboo Cougars to the TELUS Cup, the Under-18 AAA national championship.

As of this publication, the petition has garnered nearly 800 e-signatures in hopes of working together with the city in reopening places like the Kin Arenas, where Cariboo Hockey hosts home games each year.

Northern Health has gone five weeks without a new test-positive case of COVID-19 with all 65 previously diagnosed patients now recovered.

In the authority’s jurisdiction, where 285,524 residents are accounted for, the BC Centre for Disease Control has only tested 3.14 per cent of the population.