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Spruce Kings-Silverbacks bringing junior A hockey to Burns Lake

BCHL Road Show in February pits Interior Conference rivals in two-game regular-season series; players and coaches will teach minor hockey skills camps and coaching clinics on traditional Ts’il Kaz Koh First Nation territory.

The B.C. Hockey League and its Road Show are coming to Burns Lake.

The Prince George Spruce Kings and Salmon Arm Silverbacks will play a pair of B.C. Hockey League regular-season games in February in the community 227 kilometres northwest of Prince George – the first-ever junior A hockey games to be played at Tom Forsythe Arena on the traditional territory of the Ts’il Kaz Koh First Nation.

“After a year off last season, we are thrilled to bring the Road Show back in 2022,” said BCHL Commissioner Chris Hebb. “This event is a fantastic way for us to extend the league’s reach into communities that may not typically get to see this level of hockey and for us to engage with them in a personal and meaningful way.

“Kitimat was a great starting point for us and, through our partnership with Lake Babine Nation, we can’t wait to build on that success this season in Burns Lake.”

Players and coaches from both teams will visit schools prior to the games Saturday, Feb 26 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 27 at noon. The teams will also participate in on-ice skills clinics for minor hockey players and the coaches will share their knowledge in coaching clinics. Fans will also be invited to team practices.

In the inaugural Road Show in February 2020, the Spruce Kings played the Langley Rivermen in Kitimat in a two-game series and Spruce Kings general manager Mike Hawes said that was such a positive experience for all involved.

“It was the league’s first crack at the Road Show and it was received extremely well in Kitimat,” said Hawes. “The games were very well-attended and the school visits and the clinics with the players and coaches ran for local minor hockey kids were incredibly well-received and the whole community embraced it.”

There were plans to bring the event to Burns Lake last year before the pandemic wiped out that possibility.

Two months into the season, the Silverbacks are off to a 12-3-1-0-0 start and the Spruce Kings (9-6-0-0-0), who play Friday night in Vernon, also have a winning record. The Kings will e the home team for both games in Burns Lake.

“I’m sure the arena will be cram-full of hockey fans that are looking forward to the event and it’s going to be a tremendous couple of games up in an area that needs it,” said Hawes. “It’s our shortest trip of the year. We’re a team that likes to promote everything to do with northern B.C and our players and staff are extremely excited about it.

“Just with what’s been going on in the Indigenous community, the ability of our team and our league to help with the healing process, based around the residential school stuff, it’s really important for us and our league to contribute and help any way we can with that.”

The host Lake Babine Nation has the support of the neighbouring First Nations for the event, including the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, Cheslatta Carrier Nation, Nee Tahi Buhn Indian Band, Skin Tyee Nation and Ts’il Kaz Koh First Nation.

“On behalf of the Lake Babine Nation, I am very honoured to announce that we are bringing this wonderful event to Burns Lake that will feature the highest calibre of hockey, while also showcasing our Indigenous culture,” said Lake Babine Nation chief Murphy Abraham, in a league release.

“As many are aware, Indigenous communities have experienced significant challenges this past year as we have had to deal with the painful losses of many loved ones due to the COVID-19 pandemic and we have been re-traumatized by the horrific discovery of now over 5,000 of our children who were forced to attend Indian residential schools and, tragically, never returned home to their parents, families and communities.”

“I strongly believe that this event will create positive memories for all children, youth and families who participate that will last a lifetime.”