Penticton Vees Jack Barnes celebrates his first period goal again Chilliwack Chiefs netminder Matthieu Caron at the South Okanagan Events Centre Saturday at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
Mark Brett/Western News

Cowichan Capitals in deadline dilemma with 20-year-old players

Hard decisions loom when BCHL may or may not resume play

With the Canadian junior A hockey trade deadline looming this Thursday (Feb. 25), Cowichan Valley Capitals head coach and general manager Brian Passmore was in a bit of a quandary.

Not knowing for sure if the B.C. Hockey League would be able to resume play next month or not — depending on COVID-19 restrictions — Passmore was struggling to do right by his players, especially the 20-year-olds in their last year of eligibility. If the BCHL does return to action, he will want those veterans in the lineup, but if it doesn’t, he would prefer to have sent them to another junior A league that is playing or will be playing this season.

“Obviously we have 20-year-old guys who want to go somewhere where they will be playing,” Passmore said, adding that “two or three” of the five 20-year-olds on the current roster have asked to be moved to a club that will be playing.

If some or all of the five 20-year-olds end up going elsewhere, that will leave a good chunk of the 25-man roster empty.

“There will be a lot of holes there, and we need players who can play there, if we’re playing,” he noted.

The Alberta Junior Hockey League has confirmed that it will resume its season, which stopped in November, so he could send his veterans there to play. The Manitoba Junior Hockey League, on the other hand, has cancelled the remainder of the season, and Passmore has already arranged to acquire players from that league if the BCHL does get back in action.

It’s a tricky situation, regardless.

“It creates a lot of anxiety,” Passmore admitted. “We’re trying to keep guys if we’re playing, but at the same time, we’re looking for talented players coming in. We understand they want to play hockey. They’re 20 years old and looking at the future of their hockey careers. I still have a lot of optimism that we will play.”

One 20-year-old left the Caps last week, although he had never actually set foot in the Cowichan Valley since being acquired.

Jack Barnes, who was acquired from the Penticton Vees in the trade that sent hometown hero Luciano Wilson to the Okanagan, signed on with the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League for its upcoming season, which is set to begin later this month.

The 20-year-old forward was acquired from Penticton last June after posting 42 points in 156 games with the Vees over three seasons. He hasn’t previously played in the major junior ranks, but the Americans owned his rights after drafting him in the fifth round, 104th overall, of the 2015 bantam draft. Barnes’s dad, former NHLer Stu, played for Tri-City from 1988 to 1990, and has been part-owner of the club since 2004.

Barnes, who was staying at home in Texas, did not play with the Caps during the brief series of exhibition games last fall.

Barnes isn’t the first player to depart the Caps since the WHL announced that it will return to action on Feb. 26. Defencemen Aidan De La Gorgondiere and Ty Gibson, who had been on loan to Cowichan, returned to the Saskatoon Blades and Everett Silvertips, respectively, in recent weeks.

While most WHL teams and the Alberta Junior Hockey League have announced their returns, the BCHL and the WHL’s five B.C.-based teams are still awaiting clearance to play this season. The BCHL played an exhibition season in the fall, but teams have been limited to practices since November. WHL teams in B.C. haven’t skated together at all.

The BCHL season has been delayed several times, most recently on Feb. 5 when the Provincial Health Office extended restrictions around mass gatherings and events until the beginning of March.

On Feb. 18, the BCHL received notice that multiple members of the Prince George Spruce Kings tested positive for COVID-19. According to the league, the Spruce Kings reached out to Northern Health, who then notified the Provincial Health Office. All affected team members and close contacts were placed in 14-day quarantine, and anyone showing symptoms will be tested as soon as possible.