Brett Willits of the Chilliwack Chiefs flicks the puck backwards and away from Evan Orr of the Prince George Spruce Kings during a 2019 BCHL game at the Chilliwack Coliseum. The Spruce Kings were supposed to move into the Interior conference for the 2020-21 season, but instead they’re joining the Chiefs and Merritt in a three-team pod for the shortened campaign. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

Brett Willits of the Chilliwack Chiefs flicks the puck backwards and away from Evan Orr of the Prince George Spruce Kings during a 2019 BCHL game at the Chilliwack Coliseum. The Spruce Kings were supposed to move into the Interior conference for the 2020-21 season, but instead they’re joining the Chiefs and Merritt in a three-team pod for the shortened campaign. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

Chilliwack Chiefs hosting Prince George and Merritt in three-team BCHL pod

The BCHL team is preparing to sprint through a shortened season facing two foes

The Chilliwack Chiefs will be hosting a pod when the BCHL season begins in early April.

The junior A club will be in a three-team setup, joined by the Merritt Centennials and the Prince George Spruce Kings. Two of Chilliwack’s usual Mainland division rivals will be in a different pod. The Coquitlam Express tweeted Tuesday afternoon that they will be hosting the Surrey Eagles and the Powell River Kings.

A third Mainland foe, the Langley Rivermen, have opted out of the season entirely.

The BCHL has yet to officially announce pods or release a schedule.

“The upside of this is that our kids can stay in their homes or with their billet families and we can do what what we’ve been doing since September,” said Chilliwack hockey boss Brian Maloney. “We can make our way to the rink and stay out of the community. We’re just travelling back and forth from literally our bedrooms to the rink.”

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On the business side, the Chiefs will benefit from having all games on HockeyTV, providing exposure for sponsors who anted up for rink and board advertising.

The pod arrangement comes with extra responsibility for the host team. Chilliwack will have to have strict protocols in place and make sure the Spruce Kings and Centennials are following the rules.

“We have to monitor everyone that’s in the building,” Maloney said. “But we’re just happy to play games, so whatever the provincial health office tells us to do, we’re doing it.”

Like everyone around the team, Maloney doesn’t care that it’ll be non-stop Prince George and Merritt.

“We’re at a state mentally where we’ll play anyone,” he said. “In a normal year we don’t get to see a lot of Merritt, and Prince George was going to move into the Interior this season, so we wouldn’t have seen them much. Those teams are excited to play hockey too, so we expect them to have tons of energy when they come here.”

The pod arrangement carries costs for the visitors, who have to travel to Chilliwack and use accommodations while they’re here.

Maloney said the BCHL, led by commissioner Chris Hebb and executive director Steven Cocker, has stepped up to help cover costs.

“The league has done a phenomenal job of securing sponsorships and put us in a position to help out a lot of our teams, and that has separated us from other leagues in Canada,” Maloney said. “The league is able to front some money, and our owners are stepping up as well, eating a lot of these costs because they know how important it is to get these kids on the ice.

“The parents need to be acknowledged too, because we’ve been forced to ask for fees from families. The league has taken most of the brunt of that, and the cost to play the season won’t be much more than they’ve been paying for the development stuff over the last few months, and we’ve still got our fingers crossed that we’ll get some provincial government funding as well.”


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eric.welsh@theprogress.com

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