Novak celebrates

Sean Comrie, left, Pavel Novak and Elias Carmichael celebrate on Friday night at Prospera Place.

Kelowna Rockets president Bruce Hamilton says he hopes this week’s announcement the WHL regular season is to begin Jan. 8 gives reassurances to fans.

Hamilton, who was re-elected as chairman of WHL Board of Governors in June, says the start date should give fans and players a sense of optimism.

“I think it gives some clarity for our fans and most importantly for our players when our hope is to get started,” Hamilton wrote in a letter to season-ticket holders. “Once again, a lot of this will depend on the health boards. In particular, here in British Columbia, Dr. Bonnie Henry will have a significant influence on it.”

Hamilton says that some regions in the WHL territory should be cleared to play by Jan. 8, and that longer target will also give the league time to work through any challenges that they are facing in the other territories.

“In our league, Manitoba and Saskatchewan are prepared to get going even earlier, so they’ll be ready to go by then. It’ll be British Columbia, Alberta and the American Division waiting to see what approval we get. It’s a few months out, hopefully, things calm down and there’s some movement towards getting people back in facilities so we have an opportunity to run our business.”

The WHL has also agreed that regular season games during 2020-21 will be played exclusively within the boundaries of each of the four divisions — East (seven Saskatchewan and Manitoba-based teams); Central (five Alberta-based teams); B.C. (five B.C.-based teams); and the U.S. (five teams located in Washington and Oregon).

When it comes to European players, Hamilton said he’s hopeful they’ll be able to join their respective teams. Pavel Novak and Michael Krutil were both selected in last week’s 2020 NHL Draft.

“Hopefully we can get them here. Right now, the challenge is to get American and European players visas; understandably, the government of Canada has really slowed that down. Both Novak and Krutil will more than likely be on the Czech Republic’s world junior team in Edmonton, so we hope that as soon as the championship is done, they’ll be allowed to come to Kelowna and join our team; that’ll be a work in process.”

It’s been a challenge to keep up with constant changes, and Hamilton thanked fans for sticking with the club.

“We really appreciate the patience of our fans and our season-ticket holders. We can’t wait to get started,” he said. “In saying that, we need to start when it makes sense for the players’ and fans’ health. It has to be a decision that works business-wise, also. We’re like many others out there who have been shut down, we’re eagerly awaiting that window to get our business back to somewhat normalcy.”

A final determination has not yet been made as to whether spectators will be permitted to attend WHL games since it will be subject to the approval of the health authorities in each jurisdiction.