With their first exhibition game only a few days away, the Alberni Valley Bulldogs still have more questions than answers when it comes to the 2020-21 season.
The BCHL has sent an application to the province, requesting 25 percent capacity in arenas. If the BCHL is not able to have fans in the stands this season, the league will rely on sponsorships, government support and player fees to fund the season, which starts Dec. 1.
At this point, said Bulldogs president David Michaud, the team is following the provincial health order that prohibits gatherings of more than 50 people.
“It feels like I’ve done two dozen budget scenarios,” he laughed.
Player fees are new to the BCHL, said Michaud. While some teams in the league do charge a “nominal fee” for their players, this has not been a league-wide approach before this year.
“It’s been a longstanding policy of the BCHL that teams do not charge a player fee,” Michaud said. “We offer players the chance to play for free. That’s been a huge mental barrier to get over this year.”
The team—and the league—has been erring on the side of caution when it comes to keeping the players safe, said Michaud.
“Keeping the players on the ice and on their development path was the foremost goal,” said Michaud. “If you’re 20 years old and you don’t have a scholarship yet, we want to give you that chance to get a scholarship.”
Michaud was part of the BCHL’s Return to Play Task Force that submitted a “detailed plan” to the province earlier this year in order to keep the teams on the ice. As part of this plan, the BCHL has partnered with PRIVIT—an online database to track medical information for athletes. This partnership will allow the league and teams to view daily COVID-19 screening information.
The team has also been working closely with City of Port Alberni staff to keep the Alberni Valley Multiplex clean and sanitized.
“Scott Crema, our athletic trainer, has been in constant contact with players to make sure they’re doing the right thing,” added Michaud. “Education is the big thing.”
The billet program is one thing that has not changed. Billets have been “a great source of pride” this year for the Bulldogs, said Michaud. Although some billet families have had to step back this year, due to immunocompromised households, Michaud said it was not difficult to find a place for every player.
“The billets have stepped up and rallied around our players,” he said. “The community really opened their arms to the players and welcomed them back.”
Despite community support, Michaud is expecting a negative impact on finances this year. The BCHL has reached out to the province for help with pandemic losses, but at this point has not received an answer.
“So many of our corporate partners have been affected by this, as well,” Michaud said. “But with no game day revenue, sponsorships are crucial right now. We’re asking our local corporate partners to do what they can do. We’ve had some partners overwhelm us with their generosity. There are others who want to do that, but they have been negatively affected as well. We’re not going to take someone’s sign down just because they’re not able to give as much as they have in the past,” he added.
Overall, said Michaud, the Bulldogs are “optimistic” about their team this year. Players have been on the ice since Sept. 14 for an extended training camp, with 30 players competing for 25 roster positions. Pre-season play will kick off on Oct. 2 as the Bulldogs face the Nanaimo Clippers.
Fans will be able to watch the games live on Hockey TV, and local radio station 93.3 The Peak will still be broadcasting regular season games. The Bulldogs will also be posting “lots of content” on social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram), said Michaud, so that fans can follow along.
Season ticket holders who have already purchased their tickets will have an answer about refunds soon, Michaud said.
“We need some time to figure out how [the season] is going to play out,” said Michaud. “No fan is going to be left unhappy.”