From the Richmond Sentinel, October 22, 2020
By Don Fennell
It’s a unique environment with no fans in the stands, but the Richmond Sockeyes are back playing hockey.
And the perennial cup contenders again find themselves in a familiar place as the Pacific Junior Hockey League season (PJHL) gets underway—atop the standings.
Under the guidance of new head coach Bayne Koen, the Sockeyes are 2-0 following a pair of 3-1 victories over the Grandview Steelers (Oct. 15) and Port Moody Panthers (Oct. 17) respectively. They’re scheduled to host Port Moody again tonight at the Richmond Ice Centre before a return engagement with Grandview Sunday evening at Burnaby Winter Club. The Sockeyes are then scheduled to close out October with games on the 29th against Grandview at the Ice Centre and Port Moody on the 31st at the Richmond Olympic Oval.
“It’s absolutely not normal to not be playing in front of fans,” says Koen. “But that’s we got to do to keep playing. We’ve talked a lot about the fact that nothing these days is normal, so we have to be prepared to adjust on the fly.”
That also includes, he says, the possibility that a vaccine could be approved tomorrow and things will begin to return to normal. Or that the season could be called off just like that.
“It’s all day to day,” he says. “We’re the first league to play meaningful games in the province and we’ve got to continue doing the necessary things and take the proper precautions. (As a team) we’ve got to do our due diligence and put ourselves in the best possible situations and stay in our bubble as much as possible.”
While they’re only a few games into their schedule, Koen says he likes what he’s seen from the Sockeyes. But, he adds, there’s still working off the rust and expecting that with time the team will begin to show its potential.
After many months of planning, the PJHL began its 2020-21 regular season Oct. 15 with a modified format given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The season will be 36 games, with each team playing 18 games within four cohort divisions for the first half of the season. The Sockeyes are teamed with Grandview and Port Moody, while Abbotsford Pilots are grouped with Mission City Outlaws and the expansion Chilliwack Jets; the Delta Ice Hawks with Langley Trappers and North Vancouver Wolf Pack; and the Aldergrove Kodiaks with Ridge Meadows Flames, Surrey Knights and White Rock Whalers.
In December, the league will break for the required 14-day quarantine period, then the cohorts will be shuffled for the remainder of the season.
“The PJHL takes great pride in our return-to-play plan. It has been a collaborated effort involving our governing bodies, municipalities, facilities, other user groups, and our players and staff,” said commissioner Trevor Alto.
Schedules for each cohort will be announced on www.pjhl.net, as they become available.
Fans are not permitted to attend PJHL games at this time, due to current COVID-19 building restrictions. In the meantime, the PJHL is looking into various broadcast options so the games can be made available online until building restrictions are amended to allow for fans.
“Our teams have put in a lot of work getting us to this point, and we are very excited that we are able to get the season underway,” said Alto. “We understand that in returning to regular season play, we have a big responsibility of ensuring every one of our games is operated in a manner in line with our return-to-play protocol. We are very excited to get the 2020-21 season underway and look forward to giving our athletes the best development experience possible.”