While the junior B Chilliwack Jets have sorted out their arena woes, to a point, and are playing home games at the Sardis Sports Complex, one of their Pacific Junior Hockey League rivals is in a tougher spot.
The White Rock Whalers are being forced to move their home games to Richmond – for a little while, at least.
After being unable to come to a workable solution with the City of White Rock regarding the full use of dressing rooms at Centennial Arena – which are currently off-limits due to COVID-19 health-and-safety protocols – the Pacific Junior Hockey League team will play its home games this season at Richmond Arena.
While the Whalers have been practising at Centennial Arena for weeks, the players have been getting changed at home and in the parking lot, before coming inside to the ice sheet, as the dressing rooms are not considered to be in the field of play under return-to-play guidelines.
Whalers president Ronnie Paterson told Peace Arch News last week that while the arrangement had been working fine for practice, the PJHL requires proper dressing rooms for games.
On Monday morning, Paterson informed PAN that the team will be shifting its home games to Richmond “in the interim” until social-distancing protocols and other COVID-19 regulations change, at which time the team would return to Centennial Arena.
Paterson had originally said he was confident the two sides would be able to come to an agreement; he said the team had offered to thoroughly sanitize both dressing rooms after its Saturday night games, or pay for a company to do it.
“We’ll do anything,” he said last week. “We’ll work with the city and with minor hockey, and hopefully in a few weeks time we’ll have the ability to go into the dressing room… We’re getting close. Just a couple small hurdles left to overcome, but I’m confident we can do that.”
Recent discussions saw some concessions made, Paterson said, but not enough for the PJHL to approve game-play. The dressing rooms at Centennial Arena are quite small, and Paterson said based on their size, the city would only allow three players in the room at once, “which makes it problematic to change at the arena.”
However, he said the team looked at other areas of the arena where they could possibly set up makeshift dressing rooms – an idea “strongly considered and supported by the city,” he said – but those plans did not meet the league standard.
Officials at the City of White Rock did not respond to a request for comment.
The Whalers have already played two PJHL regular-season games – winning on Oct. 22 and losing Nov. 1 – and their home opener is set for Saturday, Nov. 7 against the Aldergrove Kodiaks.
White Rock also has a road game scheduled for Thursday against the Kodiaks.
The Whalers are not the only PJHL team playing home games outside of their city this season. The Ridge Meadows Flames – who are in the same cohort division as White Rock, along with Aldergrove and the Surrey Knights – have started the season playing home games out of Abbotsford, as their usual facility will not be available to them until the new year.
Regardless of where they play, Paterson noted that the team still has numerous safety protocols to follow, including having less than 50 people in the arena for games – a number than includes players, coaches, training staff, scorekeepers and officials, among other essential game-day personnel.
That may not leave a spot for Paterson, who founded the team three years ago, to watch his own team play.
He isn’t concerned with that at the moment, however.
“It might be a bit of stretch, so we’ll just play it by ear,” he said.
No fans will be allowed in to watch games, but Paterson said PJHL aren’t as likely to be adversely affected by a lack of ticket revenue as teams in other junior leagues because the Lower Mainland junior ‘B’ circuit has always operated on a pay-to-play model. The junior ‘A’ BCHL, by comparison, is for the first time ever charging its players to play this season as a way to stay in operation.
“It’s probably less financially disruptive for us than others. Our existence isn’t predicated on (external) revenue streams, so we can still move forward with our team and still give back to the community, all that kind of stuff, so we’re excited about that,” he said.
“It’s a very, very difficult situation for some of these leagues as they try to overcome these economical challenges… but we’re a little bit on the right side of the wave here.