BC Hockey League gives playoffs, schedule a facelift

Changes to the B.C. Hockey League's schedule, playoff format and player development should give fans, teams a bigger bang for their buck, says the league.

The B.C. Hockey League has made some rule changes designed to save teams money and advance the development of younger players. The changes were announced following a recent meeting of the BCHL board of governors, and now teams are having to accommodate them.

“They’re making it more cost-efficient” to travel, Alberni Valley Bulldogs’ head coach Paul Esdale said.

“The schedule hasn’t come out yet and it won’t come out for another month or two. Anytime you can go to Powell River and not get stuck there (because of the ferry), but play a couple of games, that makes sense.”

The BCHL season is going to start and end later, so it’s more in line with other hockey leagues, BCHL communications director Brent Mutis stated in a press release. Regular season games will start Sept. 23 and end March 11. Teams can either hold their training camps in August as usual or push it back to September.

Esdale said he has to absorb the league changes and hasn’t had a chance to make a decision about training camp. “It will only be a week’s difference for us either way,” he said.

The league will also go back to a half-interlock schedule that will see each team play every other team, but not necessarily visit all buildings. Regional rivalry games will be given more attention.

“I think they’ve done a good job,” Esdale said of the league promoting regional rivalries. “For us, there’s four teams on the Island. I find our travel not to be too bad at all.

“We play a lot of games on the Island. For us I don’t think it’s a huge difference.”

The BCHL office will produce the league schedule this year, something that was done about three years ago. The schedule was traditionally assembled during the annual general meeting, with all 16 team governors at the table, Mutis said in an interview.

Teams will have to reduce their rosters to 21 players from 23, which the league hopes will promote player development. “You won’t have three guys sitting out of the lineup,” Esdale said. “That will be good. Everyone will get to play and play a lot. If you get into injury trouble you’re going to have to have a good affiliate player list.”

Teams will also be required to carry at least one 16-year-old and one 17-year-old player; and with the reduced roster size, it guarantees younger players will get some ice time.

“It’s all about player development,” Esdale said. “This upcoming year we will have a 16-year-old and a 17-year-old in the lineup; that’s the rules now.

“I guess it’s exciting for the younger guys in the league.”

The league will hold an October selection of affiliate players; not a “draft” per se, but an opportunity for teams to introduce 15-year-olds to the BCHL and keep them on affiliate rosters for the season. At the end of the year their rights will have to be released by the teams.

The playoff format is also changing. Only eight teams will qualify for the playoffs: four from each conference. This will accommodate the conclusion of the season being later and ensure a team is available for the Doyle Cup.

Last year, seven of eight teams in each conference made it into the playoffs. The Bulldogs finished sixth in the regular season.

The league is also dropping one round of the playoffs, reducing them to three rounds. Gone will be the traditional bye enjoyed by the teams that finished tops in their conference during the regular season.

“This is meant to promote competitiveness in opening rounds,” Mutis stated.

This rule change will be reviewed after the end of next season.

“We’re confident these ideas will be embraced by our member clubs as we continue to work through our strategic plan,” league commissioner John Grisdale said in the press release.

editor@albernivalleynews.com

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