Yes, the CN Centre, at this point, is closed until the end of the year to help the city reduce it’s projected $3-million 2020 budget shortfall by COVID-19.
However, that doesn’t mean the Prince George Cougars don’t have a place to call home should the 2020-21 WHL season start on its tentative Oct. 2 date.
The season could still take full effect as a 68-game schedule is being planned in various scenarios, according to Cougars’ Vice-President of Business Andy Beesley, but, before they can start icing the CN Centre floor, the team must still play the pandemic’s waiting game.
“I think fans and businesses are going to understand that we have to have some sort of flexibility and we’d be naive to think that this Oct. 2 tentative date is the only date that’s out there,” he said in an interview with PrinceGeorgeMatters.
“In fact, we have a whole different variety of schedules, so if we have to start a little bit later or if the season had to be modified somehow, we’ll be prepared.”
City councillors voted unanimously last night (July 27) to close the CN Centre, Rolling Mix Concrete Arena and Elksentre for the rest of 2020, but said they would be monitoring the situation should the province go into a modified Phase Three of its COVID-19 restart plan or move into Phase Four.
Beesley says the Cougars support the decision to close the Den temporarily and communication about the decision never waivered prior to Monday.
“From the very beginning, we were well aware of the fact that the CN Centre may not have the usual ice installed as we’re all used to, and that’s because, until the WHL and the Prince George Cougars can provide a guaranteed start date, there’s really is no reason, from a Cougars’ point of view at least, to have ice in the CN Centre,” he explained.
“Part of a partnership means understanding each other and, sometimes, needing to be flexible and supporting each other. This is a great example of that where the Cougars are stepping up to the plate and saying ‘We totally get it,’ in terms of the cost of putting in a sheet of ice. Once we have certainty with our dates, then we can assure the CN Centre will be up and ready for us.”
The Cougars have, undoubtedly, had to make sacrifices for the good of public health and safety, which included cancelling its summer hockey school in late August.
The pandemic has proven to be a fluid situation, Beesley believes, as it’s been tough on him and his family as well in trying to appreciate life during a very tough time.
“I’ve got a nice enough life-experience; I’m very well aware of the fact that some things are just bigger than us. I look at the stress that I’m personally under, that my family is under and the difficulty it’s causing, but I’m also aware of situations such as my good friend [Prince George-Valemount MLA] Shirley Bond who just lost her husband and, for the most part, was unable to visit him in hospital during his last days, and the fact that people can’t visit their elderly parents in certain situations. When you weigh all that out, you have a more balanced approach. It’s a horrendous situation, but on the other hand, it’s difficult for an awful lot of people too. We need to keep this into perspective and say ‘We’re all in this together.’”
For now, the Cougars must wait on a decision in the next few weeks and returning to play won’t be possible without the approval of the WHL, the Province of B.C. and the other five regional health jurisdictions in western Canada.
Canada’s border closure also needs to be considered for the WHL’s imported players from places like the United States and Europe as it prohibits all non-essential travel internationally.
“Everybody is in good spirits; just need to wait and see what this pandemic holds in the future,” Beesley says.