Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Rule Changes for 2011-12 Season

There have been a number of rule changes introduced for the upcoming BCHL season that will impact the member teams, players and fans. Some of the changes include a later start and end date to the season, a reduced number of rostered players, a reduction in the number of playoff bound teams and the re-introduction of a half interlock schedule.

Although these rules did not receive unanimous support, they did receive the required level of support to see them introduced in time for the 2011-12 BCHL season. Many of the changes can be considered as cosmetic and do have some strategic advantages that many teams will be able to benefit from.

I like the idea of the later start date for the regular season. In the past the opening weekend was the first weekend after Labour Day, just as families were getting into the whole routine of being back in school and coming to terms with losing out on the lazy days of summer. Making plans to attend a winter sporting event wasn't really a high priority and many times the season was two or three weeks old before fans would be ready to head back to the rink.

The new tentative start date is now September 23. The new start date is in line with other leagues and just two weeks before the typical starting date of the National Hockey League. Where the later start date does become a problem is with training camp, preseason games and even getting those players attending school registered correctly.

It is expected that the Spruce Kings main training camp etc. will still be held at the end of August which will help to alleviate the issue of registering for school. Those out-of-town players will arrive in Prince George and be able to select their classes and post-secondary courses at the same time as all other students. The downside in this would be with preseason cuts that come later in the month of September before the start of the season but after school has already started.

The training camp and preseason will be extended to almost four weeks from its usual 10 to 14 days that it was in the past. This will give the hockey operations staff and the players themselves a longer period of time to go through the evaluation period. I see this as a benefit as well giving players the opportunity of showing off their abilities over a longer period of time while getting accustomed to their new situations.

A later start date means a later end date and that is the case with the regular season expected to end on March 11, 2012. I like this new date because it stretches out the regular season to within one week of the major junior league and, as the BCHL put it, it coincides with a more traditional hockey season. The problem with the later start date is the need to have a League Champion crowned and ready to compete for the Doyle Cup.

The winner of the Doyle Cup moves on as the Pacific Region representative to the RBC Royal Bank Cup. The week-long National Tournament is held every year with round-robin and playoff games being played in the week leading up to Mother's Day. These fixed dates combined with the extended BCHL regular season means something had to give. That something comes in the removal of one playoff round made possible by the decision to reduce the number of teams making the post-season to eight, four each from the Interior and Coastal Conferences.

The face of the BCHL is expected to change with the recent announcement from the Quesnel Millionaires that they can no longer function in the Gold Pan City. They sit awaiting League approval to see the franchise purchased and moved to Chilliwack. If they don't get that League approval, the current ownership group has stated that they will voluntarily withdraw from the League.

Although that is the subject of another post, it does leave a few questions as to the configuration of the League and whether there will be an uneven amount of teams in the two conferences. Knowing that only four teams will advance to the post-season, I would suspect that the Coastal Conference doesn't want to see growth in their division to nine teams which would leave five teams out of the playoffs. In the Interior Conference, three teams would miss out on the second season while the other four battle it out for the Ryan Hatfield Trophy.

The configuration of the League should become clearer once they hold their governor's meeting to approve or not the sale of the Quesnel Millionaires to Moray Keith and Jim Bond of the Chiefs Development Group. I suppose that there could be a cross over team to help ensure that the top eight teams make it through to the post-season but that is nothing more than speculation on my part. Either way the decision in regards to the Quesnel Millionaires franchise will impact the scheduling of games and the re-introduction of the half interlock schedule.

First seen in the 2008-09 season, the half interlock schedule sees teams play only four games on the road outside their conference while hosting the other half of the teams in inter-divisional games. Although I don't like the half interlock and the idea of missing out on seeing half of the other conference's team, this concept has the backing of the majority of teams. Seen as an opportunity to increase regional rivalries, teams in closer proximity will play each other more often.

In the 2008-09 season, the Spruce Kings played 12 games against the Quesnel Millionaires, 10 games against the Merritt Centennials and 6 games against each of the other Interior Division teams. Without the Millionaires, these numbers could change to some configuration of 6, 7 and 8 games against different teams equalling either 51 or 52 games (depending on the configuration of the conferences). So much has to be determined later this summer with the completion of the league schedule, but one thing is for sure - there is going to be more travel time for the Spruce Kings.

There are also three substantial changes that impact the makeup of a team and its roster. The maximum number of players has been reduced to 21 from 23, a specified minimum on sixteen and seventeen year old players and a pseudo-draft for 15 year old affiliate players. In October there will be a selection of 15 year old players to fill out a team's affiliate roster for the season. At the conclusion of the season, teams will no longer hold these player's rights leaving them eligible to sign with another team as a 16 year old.

In the past there was a maximum of two sixteen year old players allowed on a team with no minimum, that has now been changed to a requirement to carry a minimum of one 16 year old and also a minimum of one 17 year old player. Other rules regarding the use of import players and 20 year olds will remain consistent with the previous season. As seen at the RBC Royal Bank Cup, I would like to see an increase in the number of overagers allowed on a team which currently sits at six.

The other significant rule change is a decrease in the number of rostered players to 21 from its previous number of 23. Across the league it means 32 less players will be given the opportunity to play Junior ‘A’ hockey. I overheard Mike Hawes telling Allan Bristowe of CKPG News that a roster of 21 will take away the internal competition that players have for ice time. It will also put teams in a precarious position as far as injuries are concerned.

At the start of the 2010-11 season and throughout the year, the Spruce Kings had a number of injuries that kept regular roster players off the 20 player list for games. The Spruce Kings opening night roster consisted of 19 players on the ice and 4 sitting injured in the stands. Two weeks in to the season and there was a fifth player not dressed leaving the Spruce Kings two players short in their games. The later start to the regular season may help as other players will become known to teams and will be available as an AP.

As has been done for so many seasons before, these changes will just become one of the many aspects of the game that the Spruce Kings and other teams deal with throughout the year. Bottom line, I'm looking forward to the start of the season and the 40th anniversary of the Prince George Spruce Kings. This team has gone through many changes and continues to provide great entertainment for its fans and great value for its business and corporate partners in the community it has called home since 1972.

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