WHL's B.C. Division clubs cleared to play in Kamloops, Kelowna bubbles

The Western Hockey League announced Tuesday that it has been granted approval by the B.C. Provincial Health Office to play in bubble environments in Kamloops and Kelowna this season.

League says games among 5 teams scheduled to begin March 26

The Kelowna Rockets and Kamloops Blazers face off in a 2017 game as seen above. On Tuesday, B.C. cleared the WHL to play its provincial division out of bubbles in the two cities. (Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

The Western Hockey League announced Tuesday that it has been granted approval by the B.C. Provincial Health Office to play in bubble environments in Kamloops and Kelowna this season.

The league said in a release that the WHL's B.C. Division will begin play March 26.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry confirmed the B.C. government has signed off on the league's plan.

"The Western Hockey League has been approved," she told reporters Tuesday.

Teams in the league's other three divisions have already been cleared to play by state and provincial governments and public health authorities.

The Kamloops Blazers, Prince George Cougars, and Vancouver Giants will be based in Kamloops.

Teams will be permitted to travel directly between the hub cities for games, with no stops permitted in between. No spectators will be permitted in the arenas.

The league said a 24-game schedule for the B.C Division will be announced at a later date.

Players and staff will begin self-quarantining Saturday and then will report to their respective bubble on March 13, where they will be required to undergo COVID-19 testing upon arrival followed by an additional quarantine period.

Players and staff will then undergo a second COVID-19 test before being permitted to engage in any team activity.

Kelowna Rockets president and general manager Bruce Hamilton says under the new arrangements, only his team and the Kamloops Blazers are allowed to have their players staying with billet families. Players from the three other teams will have to stay at hotels.

"The protocol for the billet families is very strict, as it will be for the players," Hamilton said Wednesday to Chris Walker, the host of CBC's Daybreak South. "It'll basically be from the house to the rink and the rink back to the house. No other activities other than that."

Regular COVID screening

The league said COVID-19 screening for all players, team staff and officials will also take place on a daily basis, including regular temperature screenings. Coaches will be required to wear masks at all times, including while conducting practice and while behind the bench during games.

"The WHL appreciates the cooperation we have received from the Provincial Health Officer and health officials in B.C. as we work toward a safe return to play in the B.C. Division," WHL commissioner Ron Robison said in a release. "With our extensive protocols and the necessary approvals now in place, we are looking forward to play beginning in the Kamloops and Kelowna hubs.

"We are excited to now have all four WHL Divisions returning to play as it was our objective from the onset to deliver a season for all of our players."

Hamilton says it costs a lot for WHL to play under new conditions amid the pandemic, but the main point is to give young players exposure to university hockey teams.

"There's a number of players on our teams that are going to be graduating and going on to Canadian universities with our scholarship program, and this [WHL] is giving them exposure to all those schools that are going to be recruiting players for next year," he said.

The start of the 2020-21 WHL season was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Play finally began Feb. 26 with the league's Alberta-based teams.

Teams in the U.S. Division are scheduled to start March 19 while the East Division, with teams based in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, has been cleared to play in a bubble environment.

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League was the only league under the Canadian Hockey League to start its season at its traditional time, but pandemic-related issues have caused several interruptions.

The Ontario Hockey League has yet to announce plans for a season.

Tap the link below to hear Bruce Hamilton's interview on Daybreak South:

The owner of the Kelowna Rockets explains what we can expect when the WHL season begins 6:28

With files from Canadian Press and Daybreak South

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