This past weekend the BCHL governors met in Richmond to go over different aspects of the coming season including a day long meeting to put together a schedule. Although all the teams have had their input and have a good idea of what their season will look like, it is only tentative. The League has to go through all of it and look for inconsistencies before sending it back to the teams for final approval before releasing it to the public.
Without getting into specific dates and opponents for games in the season, there are other items that are now known. The BCHL will open the 2012-13 season in Chilliwack with a Showcase event featuring every team playing two regular season games. The Showcase is obviously great for the Chiefs and hockey fans in the Fraser Valley who will get to see every team in the League on September 7, 8 and 9th. It is also good for the League, the teams and the players as the event will attract a large number of scouts looking to get a good sense of the players they should be keeping an eye on through the season.
I have often tried to relay the message that the first few games of the regular season are huge. An early start out of the gate helps to build confidence as the season starts rolling. For rookies or those returnees that started to get noticed at the tail end of the previous season, this becomes an opportunity to serve notice that they are ready to play in the premiere Junior A hockey league in Canada. For those players that may have taken a little too much time off from preparing for the season, it could be the first and last time they get a scout to look at them - it really is all about that first impression.
Spruce Kings fans will get their first impressions of the new team with the start of the team's main training camp on Friday August 24. The camp will feature a short list of players that attended the Spring Camp, returnees from last season and of course some of the new recruits that have been acquired or are about to be acquired through the off-season. The training camp consists of a series of scrimmages along with physical testing conducted by X-Conditioning designed to gauge the strength and conditioning of the players. On Sunday August 26 the main camp will feature the annual Blue and White game where players will get one last chance to show the fans, scouts and coaching staff that they have what it takes to wear the Crown.
Again no specific dates or opponents, but the plans are well underway for the exhibition season. In past years the Spruce Kings have played a home-and-home series against teams from other leagues and the same can be expected this year giving fans a chance to see how their team stacks up against an unfamiliar opponent. The Spruce Kings are also contemplating a neutral site game or two to give the players as much game action as possible leading up to the start of the regular season. As mentioned, the Spruce Kings will start the season on the road at the BCHL Showcase in Chilliwack with a pair of games.
The BCHL has trimmed off four games from its previous 60 game regular season to go with a leaner 56 games. After the pair at the Showcase, the Spruce Kings will have 54 games remaining - 27 of them at home. The BCHL Showcase schedule has been finalized and is now available online here. The Spruce Kings will be playing at noon on Saturday September 8 against the Merritt Centennials and the last game on Sunday at 6pm versus the Langley Rivermen. These games will count against the regular season total number of games but will not count against the formula used to develop the remainder of the schedule.
For the first time since joining the British Columbia Hockey League for the 1996-97 season, Prince George will play out of the Coastal Conference from inside the Mainland Division. Gone are the usual rivals in the Penticton Vees, Vernon Vipers, Salmon Arm Silverbacks, Trail Smoke Eaters, Westside Warriors and Merritt Centennials. Now it will be the Chilliwack Chiefs (formerly the Quesnel Millionaires), Coquitlam Express, Surrey Eagles and Langley Rivermen. Being in the Coastal Conference also means games against the Island Division teams: Nanaimo Clippers, Alberni Valley Bulldogs, Cowichan Valley Capitals, Victoria Grizzlies and Powell River Kings.
The configuration of games is expected to consist of eight games against teams within the Mainland Division and a full interlock with all remaining teams. Four at home and four away against the Chiefs, Eagles, Express and Rivermen for a total of 32 games. That leaves a pair of games, home and away against the remaining eleven teams for a total of 22 games. With the release of the Showcase schedule, the Spruce Kings will play the Merritt Centennials three times and the Langley Rivermen a total of nine times.
The travel schedule and home games are pretty much on par with how they have been in the past; the Spruce Kings will be going on three game road trips and hosting the occasional double header in the Castle. The final weekend of the season is on March 9 and 10th followed by the playoff run that still needs some fine tuning but is expected to consist of a shorter first round in the Coastal Conference. The top four teams from the Mainland Division will meet in the first and second rounds which will both be best of five series. The Coastal Conference Finals will be a best of seven leading up to the BCHL Championship series, again a best of seven, and then the Western Canadian Championship in Nanaimo to determine the Western Region Representative at the RBC Royal Bank Cup.