The new commissioner of Pacific Junior Hockey League says he’s confident its teams could be playing games sooner than other local junior circuits.
White Rock-raised Trevor Alto took the reigns of the PJHL at the start of May, in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic that put an end to sports competitions of all kinds, including the mid-March league final between North Vancouver and Aldergrove.
The 13-team league includes Surrey Knights and White Rock Whalers.
As rinks begin to reopen for skills sessions this summer, Alto said the fall months could feature PJHL league games – if and when a green light is given by health and hockey authorities in the province.
“With a long-term view, I’m very positive about us being able to operate a game in a safe manner,” Alto told the Now-Leader.
He said the PJHL is pretty well structured for a return to play.
“We don’t have to deal with things like the WHL does, of going across provincial boundaries and into the States to play,” Alto said. “Our players travel on their own, in their own vehicles, to games, so there’s no bus situation, and no hotel stays in our league either, so there’s no issue there, and no buffets, team meals, that other leagues will have to deal with, in order just to operate.
“We’re lucky enough to deal with just the arrival at the arena and how we go about conducting a game, and then how we exit the arena,” Alto added. “Possibly we’d also have to look at how fans can attend in a safe manner, so our focus is on each of the individual facilities. They’re coming back online with various speeds and various expectations. I think we have to be very flexible with how each team comes back.”
— Knights Hockey (@SurreyKnights) June 24, 2020
The Knights’ pre-season training camp is planned to start Aug. 24 at Langley Sportsplex, and the Whalers have word of “identification skates” posted to the club’s website, as a way of “building our future pod.”
In mid-May the PJHL announced the arrival of the Chilliwack Jets as the league’s latest expansion franchise. Majority owner Clayton Robinson will also serve as the club’s first head coach and general manager.
“We’re excited about that franchise joining the league,” Alto said. “The league was making some big moves and a time when other leagues weren’t, so that’s very much a positive for our league and what it has been able to accomplish in recent years under Ray Stonehouse’s leadership.”
Stonehouse, the outgoing league commissioner, will stay with the PJHL in a senior advisor role for the next two seasons. Earlier this year he was named an inductee to the BC Hockey Hall of Fame, Class of 2020, as a builder.
During Alto’s first couple of months on the job, his work has involved a good number of conference calls as opposed to in-person meetings.
“This has all been a shock to the system for everyone,” he said. “It’s been really good to see the hockey community come together at all levels. Being involved in junior hockey for awhile, we kind of live in our own bubble sometimes, but it’s been great to collaborate with some of the minor hockey associations. I’ve been on quite a few calls, including with Pacific Coast Amateur Hockey Association.
“As hockey administrators it’s our duty to get these kids back on the ice as soon as possible,” Alto added. “What that’s going to look like, we’re still working on that. There are lots of ideas. At the end of the day we’re all just following orders of the health authorities and Dr. Bonnie Henry, and also Hockey Canada. And the end of the day it’s a huge collaborative effort.”
The 2019-20 season was another difficult one for Surrey Knights, who finished with a single win in 44 games, well behind other teams in the PJHL standings.
Alto says he’s confident the team can rebound with the guidance of Gerry Leiper, head coach and general manager.
“He has done an excellent job,” Alto said. “Gerry’s passion for building that program is second to none, in my opinion, and it’s been a breath of fresh air in a time that’s been difficult. So I think the Knights have a coach and GM there who is doing a great job and I look forward to where he can take the team.”