Photo credit: Garrett James Photography
The past four-plus months have been difficult for all BCHL players since the league was forced to shutdown back on Nov. 19 due to increased COVID-19 restrictions, but it has arguably been the most difficult for the 2000-born players who are facing their last year of junior hockey eligibility.
Many of those players do not have a scholarship in place for next year and were counting on the exposure the 2020-21 season would provide in order to secure a place to play next year at the NCAA Division I level.
Needless to say, when the news came down earlier this month that the BCHL had been approved to play a 20-game regular season, these 20-year-old players were thrilled to get the chance to return to meaningful competition and themselves in front of the eyes of scouts from all levels.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said Nanaimo Clippers goaltender Jordan Naylor, who turned 21 back in January. “There have been a lot of times this season where myself, and I’m sure a lot of the other 20-year-olds in junior hockey around the world, have been really upset. This opportunity is amazing. You go to sleep at night and this is what you wish for. Getting this news that we’re going to be able to play, it’s definitely exciting.”
Naylor was one of the top netminders in the BCHL last year, but went into his final year of junior eligibility without a scholarship. The Aldergove, B.C. native is confident that the work he has put in during the time off will show when he gets back into game action.
“Personally, I’ve taken these couple months we’ve had off after the exhibition season to try and be the best me possible,” he said. “I’ve put in a lot of work, so I’m expecting to come out here and, once I get my feet under me in a game scenario, prove that I can make a difference for my team.”
“I feel like it’s a bit of a weird year for the NCAA and a lot of teams are at the end of their seasons, so they’re going to know what they need. I’m hoping some teams are going to need a goalie. I can’t wait to start playing again and get some eyes on me and hopefully something good comes out of it.”
Another player in a similar situation is Prince George Spruce Kings forward Christian Buono. The 20-year-old from Burnaby, B.C. is entering his third season in the league after splitting time with the Powell River Kings and Merritt Centennials earlier in his career.
Buono is coming off two strong seasons in the league, but was especially productive during his stint in Merritt last season when he had 25 points in 37 games to finish the year. That being said, he is another 2000-born player who is coming into this shortened season still looking to earn a scholarship.
“It means a lot [to get to play],” he said. “Me and my teammates have been putting in a lot of work the last few months leading up to this, not knowing if we’re going to play or not. For me, it’s really big. I don’t have a scholarship yet, but it’s still my goal to get one. Having these 20 games we’re going to play here is really big for me, so I can showcase my talents.”
Buono has been working hard on his game since the end of last season and has some specific aspects that he is hoping to showcase starting Apr. 3 when the Spruce Kings play their first game.
“I want to go out and show how much I’ve improved on my game the last two years,” he said. “I also want to show off some different aspects of my game. I’ve been pretty offensive-minded the past two years, so if it’s going out there and blocking more shots, forechecking harder or hitting harder, that’s what I have to do to try and get that scholarship that I’ve had in the back of my mind for two years now.”
There is no question that COVID-19 has had a negative effect on the amount of scholarships being handed out this year. A lack of exposure for junior-aged players has greatly impacted the number of committed players in the BCHL, but the hope is that with this five-week season, those players that deserve scholarships, and would have earned them in a normal year, will get that opportunity and get the chance to further their athletic and educational goals.