For the better part of a year, all the Fort St. John Senior Flyers management was concerned with was finding enough committed players to return for the 2020-21 season. Little did they know it wouldn't be the only factor determining if the Flyers hit the ice this winter or not.
Following a number of team meetings, president Paul van Nostrand and GM Lee Hartman are cautiously optimistic they will have enough committed players to return and chase a North Peace Hockey League championship and Coy Cup this year. However, uncertainy prevails over whether or not there will be an NPHL season at all.
"We had a good meeting (July 3) and I'm more encouraged than I was before that. At first we had 15 for-sures, now we have safely over 20 players willing to play for us and it's looking good," van Nostrand said, though he cautioned there wouldn't be any official announcement yet and things could change.
Hartman agreed. As far as the actual team goes, they should have the players to play this year. "If there is hockey, and if it's profitable hockey, we'll be involved," Hartman said.
Unfortunately, that's a really big if.
The Flyers, like most teams in the Peace, depend on ticket sales to run their operation. As of right now, the mass gathering limit in B.C. remains at just 50 people. Under normal circumstances, that's not even enough people to run a game, when you take into consideration players, coaches, officials, and arena staff. If that remains the limit, there will almost certainly be no fans.
"I'm not sure if we can make a go of it without fans. We can't be paying the city that money to play and use the ice with no revenue coming in return," said van Nostrand. " That being said, we could never survive on just admission anyway, we don't get enough people."
As of right now, any decisions regarding public attendance, and how many people would be allowed at the rink during a game all depend on a return-to-play plan from B.C. Hockey and Hockey Canada, currently being developed. After that, each team would likely have to negotiate with their municipality to see if that plan would even work, regardless of whether it would be financially viable for the team.
Another big factor is travel between B.C. and Alberta.
The two provinces have different guidelines pertaining to COVID-19, and B.C. Hockey and Hockey Alberta are likely to as well. That could play a big part in deciding whether the Flyers and Dawson Creek Senior Canucks are able to battle against the Grande Prairie Athletics or not. None of that takes into consideration social distancing measures in the dressing room, at the arena, and even on the team bus.
As for finances, teams also rely heavily on sponsorship. With the state of the economy, companies already have less money to spend on sponsorship and advertising. If there are no fans, they also don't have a lot of incentive to put the company name in a program, or have it announced over the loud speaker.
"Our sponsors are not really in it for exposure. They love the Flyers and support us and we support them back, and they are great," van Nostrand said. "But if they can't even come to the games and see their companies name, than it's unlikely we would get any money."
Added Hartman: "My feeling is, we won't have sponsorship unless we have fans. I wouldn't put an ad in the Flyers program if nobody will be buying a program."
All the doubt and uncertainty doesn't mean there isn't hope, however.
"What I am very happy with is the commitment level of people who want to play hockey. But someone saying they want to play and someone actually showing up is two different things," Hartman said. "We want 22 full-time players and eight part-time players. They don't need to be ex-NHLers, just guys who can get on the bus when we have a game."
Email sports reporter Dillon Giancola at firstname.lastname@example.org.