B.C.'s flooded, devastated highways strand hockey teams, halt games

·4 min read

Getting a hockey team home is half the battle in B.C. as mudslides, floods and collapsing highways have stranded several.

Teams and leagues relying on bus travel will also face the question "how do we get there?" if the province's main highways remain impassible in the coming weeks.

After two days in a Kamloops hotel, the BCHL's Coquitlam Express prepared to board a charter flight Tuesday in Kelowna to get home from Saturday's game in Prince George.

"This has certainly been a team-bonding experience that was not planned, and a very expensive weekend," Express general manager Tali Campbell told The Canadian Press on Tuesday.

"There are four or five possible routes for us to get back into Coquitlam. They were all closed as of yesterday afternoon. This could be a week, four more days, three more days we don't know.

"Our deputy premier Mike Farnworth said this morning on the news there is no timeline for when these highways will open safely. For us, a charter flight for these boys to get back home, and obviously parents are nervous and scared, was the best solution for us."

Twenty rainfall records were set Sunday across southern B.C., according to Environment Canada.

En route home that day from Prince George, the Express stopped in Cache Creek for ice cream as a reward for winning two road games.

Upon learning the Coquihalla Highway was closed, the team opted to stay in Kamloops for a night. The Express aborted another attempt to get home the following day because mudslides cut off other highways.

They returned to a hotel at capacity.

"It was sold out," Campbell said. "It was quite crazy.

"There was a big (minor hockey) tournament in Kamloops and Kelowna this weekend. There's probably 40 teams up in the interior trying to get back to the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island."

Extra days in a hotel plus chartering a plane turns a $15,000 road trip in a $30,000 one, Campbell said.

The BCHL's Victoria Grizzlies were also working on getting home Tuesday. The team spent an unplanned night in Penticton after a game in Trail.

The Merritt Centennials are displaced. An evacuation order issued Monday for the city's 7,000 residents directed them to Kamloops and Kelowna.

The Centennials' home rink, Nicola Valley Memorial Arena, was turned into an evacuation point for people with mobility issues or without access to vehicles.

The majority of Merritt's players and team personnel relocated to Kamloops, BCHL deputy commissioner Steven Cocker said

Merritt's game in Penticton on Wednesday is called off and eight other games scheduled for the weekend are questionable, he said.

BCHL teams rely heavily on the Coquihalla for travel, but Farnworth said Tuesday it could take weeks or months to restore its damaged sections.

"It really connects our interior teams with our coastal teams," Cocker said. "Those are our two conferences.

"Merritt is obviously right in the middle, but that is the main highway that connects any teams travelling down to the Lower Mainland and vice versa."

The Western Hockey League's board of governors met Tuesday to assess the situation for its major junior clubs.

Five B.C. teams are scheduled to either travel or host games Friday, including the Victoria Royals playing in Kamloops.

"Getting to Kamloops, that's probably the most difficult one," WHL commissioner Ron Robison said. "The other travel is not as Trans-Canada or Coquihalla dependent.

"We haven't made any decisions at this point in time, but that's the one that would be most likely to be cancelled if it is."

Travelling by bus to future games would be complicated by incapacitated routes.

"We're fortunate we're getting home," Campbell said. "We are supposed to play a game on Friday in Coquitlam against the Trail Smoke Eaters. At this point, it doesn't look like they'll be able to get down.

"Obviously the Merritt Centennials will be displaced from their home arena for some time. It's going to wreak havoc on our scheduling, but it's also going to wreak havoc financially.

"After the year we've had with COVID, no fans in buildings and no sponsors, our league has been bleeding pretty hard. This is Mother Nature. Nothing that anyone has caused. It's certainly going to be one that's going to sting for awhile for some teams."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 16, 2021.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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