The 100 Mile Wranglers will sit out this season.
Wranglers president Greg Aiken said the board has decided to keep the team off the ice at the South Cariboo Rec Centre this year, due to safety concerns around bringing up to 35 youth into B.C. from other parts of Western Canada. The BC Hockey League’s Junior B season is tipped to start on Nov. 13, but teams were given the option to skip this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re concerned for the health of our community, just bringing 35 foreign bodies to our town is a risk. ” Aiken said. “To me, that just doesn’t make sense with this pandemic going on. Who knows what is going to happen with the kids going back to school … I can guarantee there’s going to be a spike in cases. It’s not getting better.”
It wasn’t known at press time how many other teams were “going dark,” but Aiken said the rising COVID-19 numbers and the strict social distancing protocols, which will affect fan attendance numbers at the games, were both factors in the Wranglers skipping the season this year. The Wranglers typically average between 350 and 600 fans, he said, and the rule for under-50 gatherings will put a dent in their finances. “We can’t survive on these few fans. We rely on 500 fans coming per game,” he said.
READ MORE: 100 Mile Wranglers move past Chase
Aiken has spent the past few days notifying the players and trying to find new teams for the returning 18 Wranglers, who have spent the past few months training at home. A dispersal draft is slated for Friday. He stressed, however, that this is temporary and the team will be back for the 2021-22 season. The organization will also be highly visible around the community during the next year to prepare for the Wranglers’ return.
“Just because we’re not playing doesn’t mean we’re not active,” Aiken said. “We’re only taking the season off. We’re not folding, we’re just choosing not to participate in this season.”
The organization will continue to hold fundraising efforts such as its Labour Day Drive-Thru BBQ Fundraiser set for the rec centre on Monday, Sept. 7 from 11:30-2 p.m. Bruce Madu, a director at large for the Wranglers and Entertainment Co-chair for this year, said he hopes to raise more than the $2,000 collected at a similar event in August.
He said the fans are missing their hockey, but the social distancing rules make it tough to have more than the two teams in the arena at one time.
“We’ll figure something out,” he said. “We have a good fan base so we will come up with something to get our fans involved. We just have to wait it out, that’s all we can do.”
Aiken agreed, noting “our future is good” and the team will be ready to play next season. “We’re all disappointed. There’s nothing I want more than to bring hockey back this season but not with this risk. Our hospital would be overwhelmed,” he said. “For seven years we’ve had tremendous support from the town, our fans, sponsorship. They’re our lifeblood so we want to make sure we don’t put them at risk.”