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Prince George Spruce Kings moving back to BCHL’s Interior Conference for 2020-21 season

Cranbrook’s new franchise encourages league to realign to two divisions
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Face-off between the Prince George Spruce Kings and the Vernon Vipers (via Kyle Balzer)

“The new format makes the most sense geographically and is a logical step for the future of the BCHL.”

That’s from B.C. Hockey League (BCHL) Executive Director Steven Cocker as the Prince George Spruce Kings are returning to a more familiar division next year.

The league’s Board of Governors announced today (Feb. 3), due to the addition of the Cranbrook Bucks for the 2020-21 season, the ‘Kings will be back in the Interior Conference for the first time in eight years.

Prince George is the only team being moved as a result of the latest realignment as the BCHL will now operate under two nine-team conferences.

The northern-capital club joins Cranbrook, Merritt, Penticton, Salmon Arm, Trail, Vernon, Wenatchee and West Kelowna.

Coincidentally, Prince George is just coming off of a six-game road trip that included three stops in the Interior, going 1-2 against those divisional clubs.

Their record against Interior teams this year is 3-10 thus far with two tilts left before season’s end. 

“With Cranbrook coming into the league next year, the league and the Board recognized the need to alter our current divisional alignment,” said Cocker in a news release.

The Cranbrook Bucks were welcomed into the league on Oct. 9, 2019 as its 18th franchise.

This is the second adjustment for the BCHL in the last four years, the last one in 2016 when the Wenatchee Wild joined the league, and has utilized the three-division system since the 2012-13 season separating Island from Mainland and Interior.

The Spruce Kings have played in the Mainland Division since then, but were settled into the Interior Conference for 16 consecutive seasons when they joined the league in 1996.

The red, white and blue have only missed the playoffs five times since coming into B.C.’s junior ‘A’ level system (2002, 2003, 2010, 2011, 2016).

The change also courts a new schedule for next season, dropping to 54 games for each team instead of 58 and a later start in September, the league explains.

“The decision to reduce our games next season to 54 was a difficult move but, with our league mandate around player safety, we see this as what’s best for the development of our players,” adds Cocker. 

“This will also result in fewer 3-in-3 weekends and proper rest between games in order to maximize time for practice and recovery. [...] Another important component of the schedule was getting out of the month of August, our camps will now open in early September with season openers at the end of the month. We feel this will best serve our athletes in their out-of-season development.”

As for playoffs, the league has decided to re-seed the crossover teams in the Interior Conference based on final number of points instead of automatic seventh- and eighth-place positions.

As it stands, the Spruce Kings have yet to clinch a playoff spot with only eight games left on the 2019-20 docket, including five on home ice.

Prince George returns to the Rolling Mix Concrete Arena on Wednesday (Feb. 5), 7 p.m. against Wenatchee and will host Merritt on Friday (Feb. 7) at the same time.