The Leafs are among KIJHL teams dealing with the financial fallout of the pandemic. Photo: Tyler Harper

Nelson Leafs among KIJHL teams struggling financially during pandemic

There’s no guarantee the Leafs return to the ice in September

The Nelson Leafs are among KIJHL teams losing money and contemplating the possibility of another abbreviated season or even no hockey at all in the fall.

Team president Corey Viala said he has doubts the Leafs will be playing again in September unless the COVID-19 pandemic improves.

“I’ll be quite honest, I cannot see us having a league next year unless things change, and I’m not really sure how much things need to change in order for us to be back on the ice for next year,” said Viala.

KIJHL commissioner Jeff Dubois said in a statement Tuesday the league will apply for provincial and federal assistance to stay in operations.

Dubois did not specify how much money teams have lost so far. He cited last season’s cancelled playoffs, the inability for some teams to hold annual spring tryouts, and the expectations of decreased sponsorship and ticket sales as some of the reasons to be concerned for the health of the league.

“When you put all of that together, the impact at the individual team level could very well be in the tens of thousands of dollars,” Dubois said. “And when you factor in all 20 teams in our league, it wouldn’t be a stretch to project an overall impact of a million dollars or more.”

The Leafs are one of 13 teams run by societies in the league, while seven others are privately owned. Nelson has posted financial losses for several seasons, but is also considered one of the most viable teams in the KIJHL.

Viala said the team lost significant gate revenue when the second round of the playoffs was cancelled just prior to Nelson hosting two games against Beaver Valley. Playoffs games against the rival Nitehawks typically draw upwards of 1,000 fans at the Nelson and District Community Complex.

“It was a tough decision. It was one of those things that was being made at the last minute as information was coming through,” said Viala.

Leafs vice-president Jeff Wright sits on the KIJHL’s board of governors. He said the league will likely need to make a decision on next season by July, ahead of training camps that normally open in August.

Wright said even if the regular season begins in September, several factors could reduce the 49-game schedule. He said teams have been given the opportunity to skip next season without leaving the league if they can’t afford to compete. Fewer teams, he said, will impact the schedule.

“We don’t want to lose anybody if we don’t have to,” said Wright, who added some teams have trouble putting even 50 fans in the stands during a normal season. “We’re willing to assist them.”

Wright also said the Cyclone Taylor Cup, which is played for by B.C.’s junior B champions from the KIJHL, Pacific Junior Hockey League and Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League, will keep the schedule from running past April when ice availabilities tend to disappear on the Lower Mainland.

That means if the season has to start, for example, in October or November, it can’t be extended to later in the year. Wright said the league may consider a permanent location for the tournament in the Interior to allow for play in May.

“We try to put dates on it and two days later something happens and it blows it out of the water,” said Wright. “So right now we’re just really going day by day.”

Meanwhile, the Leafs are also losing money due to the closure of the team’s recycling depot.

Wright said the depot would usually net approximately $1,000 per week during this time of year. The team is still paying rent for the building and has kept its manager on, but Viala isn’t yet sure how it will safely re-open once Recycling BC gives it the green light.

“We don’t want to open and then having everybody have a big rush of stuff to bring in, and then at the same time having to shut down again because we only have so much room to store the material before it can be removed,” said Viala.



tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

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