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Cariboo Hockey scheduled to compete in three-month-long COVID-19 cohort tournament

Safety protocols will see teams travel, play every second weekend until December

It’ll be the first time since March some of Prince George’s top young hockey players will see any action on the ice.

The U-18, U-16 and U-15 Cariboo Cougars are scheduled to go down to Abbotsford in October to participate in a tournament spread out over three months in order to meet COVID-19 safety protocols.

Dubbed the Cohort Cup, six teams from each of the BC Hockey’s AAA leagues will compete against each other every two weeks starting this Friday (Oct. 2) with the U-15s and the entire competition wrapping up by Dec. 20.

The Fraser Valley Thunderbirds are hosting the tournament and General Manager Darrin Ponak says with no league-play at the moment due to the pandemic, he felt it was necessary for players, coaches and scouts to get back to the rink.

“When you get to this level, if you were to use it as skill and practice development, that gets old,” he said in an interview with PrinceGeorgeMatters.

“These kids want to play and they want to compete, so with that in mind, we could play some sort of an exhibition game or could we use it as a cohort tournament. If we got ice installed, we would have a cohort tournament; up to 12 games in a weekend. We were hopeful to get all the teams in, but some were unable to put it all together.”

The three months it’ll take to complete the BC Hockey and Fraser Health-approved event will be spread out for the three divisions every two weeks.

For example, after the Cariboo U-15 AAA Cougars finish their first weekend of play, they’ll come back down two weeks later for more games and so on until December.

“Through conversation, it started to grow and we came with this idea to rotate it,” explains Ponak, “especially with the restrictions of a two-week quarantine before you can change cohorts, which allows them to change up the cohorts and play against different teams.”

Some of the key protocols in place with the Cohort Cup, played at the Abbotsford Centre, include different entrances and exits, masks to be worn when not in the dressing room, hand sanitizers everywhere and hosts to help teams follow the guidelines.

Ponak adds the games will be live-streamed in 4K quality with the help of a lower-mainland production company as fans will not be allowed in the arena.

“viaSport BC is currently allowing [us] to make an application for numbers of 50, so most events will allow for 50 as a maximum gathering. For a building of this size, we can apply for 50 so that scouts can come and watch especially because there’s that interest from them.”

Each team, Ponak says, will be guaranteed nine games and one ice clean will take place in the middle of the second period to keep games flowing.

The top four teams in each division will qualify for the playoffs; the bottom two will play a best-of-three to finish the Cohort Cup.

“We’re just really excited that momentum is being generated with scouts having something to actually watch these players in a controlled, safe setting,” concludes Ponak.

The Cariboo Cougars' schedules for the 2020 Cohort Cup are as follows:

U-15 AAA Cougars

  • Week One
    • Oct. 3, 9 a.m. vs. Greater Vancouver Canadians
    • Oct. 3, 7 p.m. vs. Fraser Valley Thunderbirds
    • Oct. 4, 9 a.m. vs. Valley West Giants
  • Week Two
    • Oct. 24, 9 a.m. vs. Vancouver North East Chiefs
    • Oct. 24, 7 p.m. vs. Vancouver North West Hawks
    • Oct. 25, 9 a.m. vs. Greater Vancouver Canadians
  • Week Three
    • Nov. 14, 9 a.m. vs. Greater Vancouver Canadians
    • Nov. 14, 7 p.m. vs. Greater Vancouver Canadians
    • Nov. 15, 9 a.m. vs. Greater Vancouver Canadians
  • Playoffs - Dec. 4 to 6

U-16 AAA Cougars

  • Week One
    • Oct. 10, 9 a.m. vs. Greater Vancouver Canadians
    • Oct. 11, 7 p.m. vs. Fraser Valley Thunderbirds
    • Oct. 11, 9 a.m. vs. Valley West Giants
  • Week Two
    • Oct. 31, 9 a.m. vs. Vancouver North East Chiefs
    • Nov. 1, 7 p.m. vs. Vancouver North West Hawks
    • Nov. 1, 9 a.m. vs. Greater Vancouver Canadians
  • Week Three
    • Nov. 21, 9 a.m. vs. Greater Vancouver Canadians
    • Nov. 21, 7 p.m. vs. Greater Vancouver Canadians
    • Nov. 22, 9 a.m. vs. Greater Vancouver Canadians
  • Playoffs - Dec. 11 to 13

U-18 AAA Cougars

  • Week One
    • Oct. 17, 9 a.m. vs. Greater Vancouver Canadians
    • Oct. 17, 7 p.m. vs. Fraser Valley Thunderbirds
    • Oct. 18, 9 a.m. vs. Valley West Giants
  • Week Two
    • Nov. 7, 9 a.m. vs. Vancouver North East Chiefs
    • Nov. 8, 7 p.m. vs. Vancouver North West Hawks
    • Nov. 8, 9 a.m. vs. Greater Vancouver Canadians
  • Week Three
    • Nov. 28, 9 a.m. vs. Greater Vancouver Canadians
    • Nov. 28, 7 p.m. vs. Greater Vancouver Canadians
    • Nov. 29, 9 a.m. vs. Greater Vancouver Canadians
  • Playoffs - Dec. 18 to 20