Kings open preseason Oct. 10 in Merritt

Although the start of the B.C. Hockey League season delayed until December, teams are already getting ready to tackle an extended exhibition schedule.

That begins next weekend for the BCHL’s four Okanagan-based teams.

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The Prince George Spruce Kings start Oct. 10 in Merritt, the first of two meetings between the teams next month in the Nicola Valley. They also meet Oct. 23 in Merritt.

The Centennials will travel north to face the Spruce Kings on Sunday, Oct. 25 and again on Saturday, Nov. 7.  Those games will be played without fans present at Kin 1, with the Spruce Kings home arena, Rolling Mix Concrete Arena, still shuttered due to the pandemic.

The Spruce Kings are the only BCHL team whose home arena is still closed.

To reduce costs, the Kings will have single-game roadtrips and won’t be staying overnight until their November trip to the Kootenays. They’ll stay two nights that weekend in Cranbrook to face the expansion Bucks, Nov. 13-14, then visit Trail on Nov. 15. The Kings also play Nov. 21 in Merritt.

The Spruce Kings players report for off-ice fitness tests on Monday, Sept. 28. The league has imposed a limit of 30 players each for training camps and the Kings have decided to open its extended training camp for just their 25 rostered players. Ice sessions will begin at the Kin Centre on Thursday, Oct. 1.

“Some teams had the option to start Sept. 8 but we’re running some development camps for minor hockey kids (after school and on weekends) with our coaches running them and we chose do that for the month of September instead of starting early,” said Spruce Kings general manager Mike Hawes.

All exhibition games in the 18-team league will be played without fans. That starts next Friday with Penticton traveling to Salmon Arm and Vernon at West Kelowna. Cohorts of no more than four teams will continue to play each other throughout the exhibition season.

“We believe it’s important to have our players playing meaningful games during this extended period before the start of our regular season, in order to stay engaged and game-ready leading into December,” said BCHL executive director Steven Cocker. “Our teams are working within the guidelines to provide our players with a high level of development on and off the ice.”

The league announced a month ago it will go ahead with a reduced schedule for its 2020-21 season, beginning the first week of December. The BCHL had asked the provincial health office to approve a plan to have league games played in front of 25 per cent arena capacities but that’ highly unlikely, as least until the province moves to Phase 4 of its reopening plan. The loss of ticket revenue has forced teams to charge monthly player fees, which will begin with the start of training camps.

“We’re working diligently to try to get government funding and also every team is working to get sponsorships and if we can generate revenue we should be able to lower those fees to the parents as we go along,” said Hawes. “If Viasport gets to Phase 4 and they allow some fans in the buildings we can generate revenue through ticket sales and that will eliminate or heavily reduce the player fees.”

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