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The B.C. Hockey League’s top scorers for its extended pre-season now reads like a who used to be who of the circuit.
Cody Monds tallied 10 goals in 12 exhibition games with the Victoria Grizzlies. Quinn Hutson did the same in 14 contests with the Penticton Vees, and that gave them each a share of a
three-way tie for the league lead in the pre-season.
They’ve both bolted to the U.S. Hockey League in recent weeks, with Monds joining the Fargo Force and Hutson signing on with the Muskegon Lumberjacks. Owen Murray, whose 12 points in 14 games with Penticton made him the top scoring defenceman in the BCHL pre-season, also fled for the USHL, jumping to the Green Bay Gamblers.
The BCHL hasn’t played a game since its exhibition slate was shut down in November because of health order restrictions and the 17-team Junior A loop is still unclear when it might be able to start its regular season. The USHL, which is a 14-team circuit based in the Midwest, and other American leagues have continued through the COVID-19 pandemic and are well into league play, and players have taken notice.
It’s difficult to come up with an exact number of players who have departed the BCHL in the past month for U.S.-based leagues since transaction records aren’t readily published. The deadline to change leagues was Sunday.
#BCHLToday: Kings, Spruce Kings, and Clippers add new players, Vees, Warriors, and Capitals lose players to US leagues, ...👤 | Brian Wiebe (@Brian_Wiebe) 📰 | https://t.co/iI0EAjFSgJ #BCHLNetwork #CoastalConference #COVID19 #InteriorConference #NAHL #NCAA #NHL #USHL pic.twitter.com/vgKr1zrHXx— BCHLNetwork (@BCHLNetwork) January 13, 2021
The Chilliwack Chiefs admit they’ve lost six players, the Vees say they’ve had five leave. That includes three of the 10 that
listed Wednesday morning as jumping to the USHL from the BCHL since Jan. 6. That group also features the West Kelowna Warriors’ top scorer John Evans, who went to the Dubuque Fighting Saints, and West Kelowna defenceman Charles-Alexis Legault, who joined the Lincoln Stars.
Legault was one of seven BCHLers who made the NHL Central Scouting players to watch list for the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. Four have since departed for the USHL.
As well, there are players who have joined teams in the North American Hockey League and the National Collegiate Development Conference, two other U.S. circuits. Put it all together and a safe estimate is that the BCHL has lost more than 25 players in the past month.
The BCHL teams received transfer fees in some cases, depending on the player’s history.
Numerous people within the league suggest more than 50 players have left for various other circuits since the BCHL held its training camps in the fall.
“It’s been such a strange year,” said Brian Maloney, the general manager and coach of the Chiefs. “We lost six really good players, but we still have a lot of good players on our roster. We still have a really phenomenal roster.
“We wanted to get through Sunday and see where we were at. We had a really good practice on Monday. Guys seem to be excited moving forward.”
#BCHL commissioner Chris Hebb Q&A: 2020-21 league start date further delayed to February👤 | Brian Wiebe (@Brian_Wiebe) 📰 | https://t.co/j4VP0StQ1U #BCHLNetwork #CoastalConference #COVID19 #InteriorConference #NAHL #NCAA #USHL pic.twitter.com/sDT0T0WF6w— BCHLNetwork (@BCHLNetwork) January 12, 2021
The BCHL and USHL are commonly considered the top feeder leagues for the NCAA programs. They regularly recruit the same players. This only adds to that rivalry.
Defenceman Jack Bar went from the Vees to the Chicago Steel. That NHL Central Scouting watch list had him as a prospective second- or third-rounder this coming draft. If he goes that early, the USHL and BCHL will both undoubtedly use it in their sales pitches about the league.
As part of those recruiting tours, BCHL coaches are bound to talk up as well how the USHL moved out players at midseason to make room for the newcomers.
“Those guys started with us first,” Vees GM and coach Fred Harbinson said of the group that’s departed.
The current orders from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to help curtail COVID-19 cases include forbidding games between rival teams and any travel for sports. The orders are in place until at least Feb. 5. Teams are still permitted to practice.
Assuming the orders are not extended, BCHL commissioner Chris Hebb has said he’d like to begin a regular season on Feb. 8. The BCHL had pitched the idea of a hub in Penticton but Hebb says the league needed to get the green light for that before Christmas from the health authorities to make it happen and that never came to fruition.
Hebb says the hub concept is now off the table, but there are various other possibilities. The league played its exhibition games in regional cohorts in empty arenas.
“We’re not giving up. It’s not in our DNA. Every one of the owners is committed to play,” Hebb said.
Hebb had talked about each team playing a regular-season schedule in the vicinity of 28 games if the league was able to start its regular season in early January. That will be reduced now. The exhibition season ranged from 16 games (Nanaimo Clippers) to zero (Powell River Kings).
With the addition of the expansion Cranbrook Bucks this season, the league was set to roll out 18 teams this season but the Wenatchee Wild, the lone American entry, have taken a season’s hiatus due to COVID-19 regulations in Washington State and border restrictions.
The USHL plans on each team playing a 54-game regular season. The Des Moines Buccaneers lead the loop currently with 20 games played (10-8-2-0).
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