The Pacific Junior Hockey League is set to return to Surrey and White Rock this fall.
The junior ‘B’ circuit – which includes the White Rock Whalers, Surrey Knights and Delta Ice Hawks – announced on Tuesday its tentative plans to return to action for the 2020-‘21 season, stating in a news release that a 44-game season will begin on Sept. 29.
In addition to each team playing against opposing teams in its own conference, the schedule will consist of each team playing a single ‘interlock’ game against the opposing conference, as well as two games each at the 2021 PJHL Winter Classic Showcase, which is scheduled for Jan. 1-3 at Richmond’s Minoru Arena.
“Our board has been very diligent in their communications with their facilities,” stated PJHL commissioner Trevor Alto. “Both league and team return to play plans are in place and being monitored. With the increased opening of facilities, we are confident we can execute these plans and return to the ice safely.”
The PJHL’s decision to begin the season in late September – with a start date just a few weeks later than that of the 2019-‘20 season – is markedly different than the decision of the region’s other major junior hockey circuit, the junior ‘A’ BC Hockey League, which recently announced that while team training can begin in September, regular-season games would not begin until Dec. 1.
BCHL commissioner Chris Hebb, a Semiahmoo Peninsula resident, cited an abundance of caution and the potential second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic for the league’s decision to push its start date to December.
Speaking to Black Press Media earlier this month, Alto – who grew up in White Rock – said he was “very positive about us being able to operate the game in a safe manner.”
Alto pointed out that, unlike some leagues, the PJHL doesn’t have to deal with issues such as cross-border travel, hotel stays, bus rides or team meals, all of which could present COVID-19-related issues.
“We’re lucky enough to deal with just the arrival at the arena and how we go about conducting a game, and then how we exit the arena,” Alto said at the time.
“Possibly we’d also have to look at how fans can attend in a safe manner, so our focus is on each of the individual facilities. They’re coming back online with various speeds and various expectations. I think we have to be very flexible with how each team comes back.”
The 13-team league – which will add the expansion Chilliwack Jets this season – will be celebrating its 55th year in the 2020-21 season.
The PJHL also announced it has adopted an NHL-style overtime format for the 2020-‘21 season that includes five minutes of three-on-three play. Should teams still be tied after the initial overtime period, a shootout will take place until a winner is declared.