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BCHL given OK to practice as a full-team

Just a few days after BC Hockey League commissioner Chris Hebb penned a letter to the league’s fans thanking them for their continued patience and support – while noting that the current restrictions “have made things difficult for us,” – the province has adjusted its restrictions that kept some players off the ice.

On Monday, viaSport announced that the province has modified its rules around adult sports, allowing junior hockey players 22 and under to practise together. Under the previous rules, junior players aged 19-21 had been banned from training with their younger teammates, as the November-issued health order lumped those older players in with other adults playing recreational sports, which were suspended under the order.

With those health orders in place, the league announced in late November it was pushing the start of its new season into January, from its previous start date of mid-December.

The revised rules have changed “adult team sport” – which previously lumped in the older juniors – to now read as “group sport” and does not include “sport for children or youth, varsity sport or high-performance athlete sport.”

“Group sport (i.e. sport for those 22 years of age or older) is only permitted in groups of up to two people (e.g. singles tennis or an athlete and a coach training session). Outdoor group sport is only permitted in groups of up to four people (e.g. four individuals may run together or four individuals could run soccer drills),” the statement from viaSport reads.

Individuals are allowed to travel to their home club “for the purpose of sport” and those determined to be “high performance athletes” in other sports, not just hockey, have also received an exemption, under viaSport’s revised conditions.

The move means that BCHL, Western Hockey League and junior ‘B’ teams can resume full-team practices now that the holiday break is coming to a close.

On Christmas Eve, Hebb, a Semiahmoo Peninsula resident, posted a letter on the BCHL’s website thanking fans and others involved in the league for their patience, while also noting that “although there have been numerous obstacles along the way, we continue to be committed to this goal and will push forward with the best interests of our players and fans in mind.”

Hebb expressed optimism that the league would be able to start up with games “sooner rather than later” as a result of the ongoing vaccine roll-out and the league’s “effective safety plan.” Between late summer, when teams began gathering for an extended training camp, and mid-November, there were just two reported COVID-19 cases in the BCHL – one in Surrey, and one involving the Penticton Vees.

The league’s continued stance has been that it intends to play a regular-season in some form, albeit an abbreviated one.

“We know everyone is looking for certainty, but unfortunately, in a pandemic, that is in short supply… We are not here to give false hope, but we feel that waiting it out, rather than throwing in the towel, is the best chance we have,” Hebb writes.

The current provincial health order expires Jan. 8.