BCHL Changes Make Cents

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BCHL changes make cents

No more Tuesday night yawners. A smaller schedule. Realignment of teams. Back to larger player rosters.

The B.C. Hockey League passed a number of significant motions Thursday at the league’s semi-annual governors meeting in Richmond. The changes will take effect next season.

Vernon Viper owner Duncan Wray – who was against the reduced schedule – said the governors want all games on weekends to increase sagging fan numbers.

“Attendance has gone down everywhere in the league, and I heard it was down as much as 50 per cent in Nanaimo,” said Wray.

Vernon is third in attendance at 1,614 a game, and Wray would love to see that number hit 2,500.

“Winning isn’t the answer because we’ve been winning for years,” said Wray, who realizes cash-strapped fans can’t take in three home games on a weekend.

The Chilliwack Chiefs, with a gorgeous rink, are No. 1 at 2,057 fans a game. The Penticton Vees, also blessed with a stunning facility, are second at 1,669.

Winning, for a change, seems to be bumping up numbers in Merritt, where their old, yet cozy sandbox is drawing 600 spectators a game.

The league is also reverting back to its early September opening, but with a twist. A showcase event, primarily for U.S. college scouts, will go Sept. 7-9 with games counting in the regular-season standings.

Each team will play two games at the event meaning all teams, except the host of the showcase, will then have 27 home dates. Any revenues from the showcase will be split up amongst the league’s 16 clubs.

“We can’t hold it here because you need a twin sheet so it will likely be held in Chilliwack or Westside,” said Wray.

As for the alignment of the conferences, there will be now be 10 teams in the Coastal Conference and it will be split into two groups called the Island Division and Mainland Division. The Island Division will include Victoria, Cowichan Valley, Nanaimo, Alberni Valley and Powell River.

The Mainland Division will include Coquitlam, Surrey, Langley, Chilliwack and Prince George.

Prince George will be given the option to return to the Interior Conference after the conclusion of the 2013 playoffs.

Wray said Prince George officials had no problem switching divisions, simply turning right at the Cache Creek junction rather than left. Spruce Kings’ captain Ben Matthews told me last Sunday the players get used to the extensive travel rather quickly. However, it seems rather unfair that the Spruce Kings’ closest rival, in Merritt, gets to stay in the Interior.

The new Interior Conference will also include the Vipers, Trail, Penticton, Salmon Arm and Westside. The only Junior A team in B.C. putting on more miles are the Dawson Creek Rage of the 28-team North American Hockey League. The Rage, however, fly everywhere.

Wray said there are two motions on the table regarding rosters, one being the old 23-man list – favoured by Wray – and a 22-man lineup.

The 21-player roster deeply hurt the league’s credibility this season. Sapped by early injuries, the Trail Smoke Eaters basically were a Junior B fill-in team. The Victoria Grizzlies, after trading several key players, are playing with 14 players these days.

And of course the defending champion Vipers, suffering a string of injuries never witnessed before in their history, have summoned Junior B players almost every game.

Wray said the governors seem to like the 16-year-old rule which forces teams to carry one each. That rule will be easier for teams with unseasoned 16s to manage if the 23-man roster returns.

Who knows what kind of playoff format fans will see next year? Teams have been asked to submit new playoff ideas by Feb. 1.

As long as they don’t go to any zany round-robin schedule – which has happened in the past – or a best-of-nine series, as suggested by one governor the other day, things should fairly even out.

Make changes and you of course get reaction. There were 37 posts on the BCHL fan zone forum (network54.com/Forum/146929/) Friday morning, and many were well thought out.

From rinkratz: “I think you will find this will ease the cost of travelling considerably by going to the three divisions. I for one hope they go back to the 23-man roster. By going to 21 this year that means they put 32 hockey players who could be playing Junior A hockey back to Junior B. Take a good look around at the teams who can’t for some reason get an AP for a particular game. Teams have played with 15 or even less players in too many games this season.”

From albernidog: “So now teams struggling financally they will lose four homes, two regular season and two playoff games. With all the changes the BCHL has made in the last number of years, it’s no wonder teams are having a problem drawing crowds.”

From Windstorm 99: “Can’t say I like any of the changes…I prefer 60 games over 56. I think the showcase event should be exhibition, and I wouldn’t have put PG in the Mainland Division. Why not Merritt? I guess the powerhouse Interior teams complained about travelling there or something.”

Kevin Mitchell

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