The BC Hockey League’s 20-game mini-season may have only just ended a few weeks ago, but the junior ‘A’ hockey circuit has already announced its plans for next season.
The league released its 2021-22 schedule Monday, June 7, and it looks similar to a traditional, pre-COVID-19 schedule, albeit with slightly fewer games. Training camps open in mid-September – rather than late August, as has usually been the case – with the puck set to drop for the first regular-season game on Friday, Oct. 8.
Teams will each play 54 games, instead of the usual 58, and playoffs will begin March 25.
Other key dates on the BCHL calendar include the BCHL Showcase (Oct. 20-24) and the BCHL Road Show (Feb. 19-20). The league also mentioned its plans to celebrate the BCHL’s 60th anniversary.
The upcoming schedule will see a return to inter-division play, barring any changes in the current B.C. health restrictions.
“We are excited to turn the page and get back to competing for a Fred Page Cup in 2021-22,” said BCHL deputy commissioner Steven Cocker.
“With our schedule now out, players, as well as fans, will have the opportunity to look ahead to key dates and get excited for our 60th anniversary season.”
The Vernon Vipers will play 26 home and away games, plus two games at the Showcase (opponents yet to be determined).
The Snakes open Oct. 8 in Penticton against the Vees. Their home opener will be the back end of a home-and-home with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks on Saturday, Oct. 16, at Kal Tire Place. Saturday games start at 6 p.m.
Vernon will play one Sunday afternoon home game, March 13, against the expansion Cranbrook Bucks. That will be a 2 p.m. start. All other home games will begin at 7 p.m.
The Vipers and Bucks will meet for the first time Feb. 4 in Cranbrook, the first of four consecutive games for Vernon against the league’s 18th franchise.
In the Interior Conference, Vernon will play the Silverbacks and Prince George Spruce Kings seven times and will take on the Vees, Bucks, Trail Smoke Eaters, West Kelowna Warriors, Merritt Centennials and Wenatchee Wild five times each.
Vernon will play eight games against the nine-team Coastal Conference. The only team they’ll play twice is the Langley Rivermen with a game in each city. The Vipers will visit Alberni Valley, Cowichan Valley and Victoria, and will host Coquitlam, Powell River and Surrey.
The Vipers will not play the Nanaimo Clippers and Chilliwack Chiefs in 2021-22.
The top eight teams in each conference will make the playoffs.
Last season’s start date was delayed numerous times due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the league finally squeezing in a 20-game season from April until mid-May. Teams were split into five pods, with all games based in one arena per group. No post-season play was held, and the Fred Page Cup championship trophy was not handed out.
The Vipers lost the 2019 Fred Page Cup final in four straight games to Prince George.
Vernon won its five-team pod at Kal Tire Place. Langley opted out of the pod schedule, and Wenatchee did not take part due to travel restrictions.
The Vipers, Penticton, West Kelowna and Salmon Arm took part in an Okanagan Cup exhibition tournament in October and November of 2020, with the Vees downing Vernon in the Cup final.