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Sunday, September 27, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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With U.S.-Canada border closed, Spokane Braves opt out of KIJHL season

UPDATED: Thu., Sept. 3, 2020

Goalie Austin Madge of the Spokane Braves looks on for a few moments before facing the Golden Rockets during a junior B hockey home game on Jan. 19, 2020, at Eagles Ice Arena. Golden won 5-3.  (Libby Kamrowski/The Spokesman-Review)
Goalie Austin Madge of the Spokane Braves looks on for a few moments before facing the Golden Rockets during a junior B hockey home game on Jan. 19, 2020, at Eagles Ice Arena. Golden won 5-3. (Libby Kamrowski/The Spokesman-Review)
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

The Spokane Braves’ 50th season will have to wait until next year.

With the U.S.-Canada border closed indefinitely, the Braves will not participate in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League this season, according to a league release on Thursday.

Spokane is the only U.S.-based franchise in the KIJHL, a Junior B league with 19 teams in British Columbia.

“I have no idea when the border’s gonna reopen,” Braves coach Mike Bay said. “It just sucks.”

The Braves are not the only team to opt out, however. The 100 Mile House Wranglers and the Beaver Valley Nitehawks also will not play this season. The league’s release cited financial concerns for those franchises.

While the Braves rely on player-paid fees to cover their costs, Bay said, some teams based in small Canadian towns rely on ticket revenues. Current provincial guidelines in British Columbia do not allow for more than 50 people in an arena at one time – players, coaches, staff and fans included.

“We can’t really rely on our gate to fund us, but all those teams are the Chiefs to those towns, like the Seahawks to those towns,” Bay said. “It’s their biggest deal.”

The remaining 17 KIJHL teams are expected to start playing on Nov. 13 with a 30-game schedule, according to the release.

Some Braves players – the majority of whom are from Spokane – are exploring potential opportunities to play in the North American 3 Hockey League, a Tier 3 league of USA Hockey, Bay said. The NA3HL has five teams in Montana and three in Wyoming.

Others, though, may opt to simply train on their own.

“They’ve just gotta figure out what they can do, and do stuff on their own,” Bay said.

The Wenatchee Wild of the British Columbia Hockey League are in a similar bind, although their fate has not been announced. The Wild are the only franchise in the 18-team BCHL – a Junior A league, one tier above the KIJHL – based in the United States.

But they are also faced with the issue of crossing the border.

The Western Hockey League has a tentative plan to begin playing games on Dec. 4, and league commissioner Ron Robison said in early August that he intends for the WHL to play a full season with all its teams, including the Spokane Chiefs.

There are five WHL teams based in the United States that normally play between seven and 11 games against each other in a regular season.

Those five teams could play against each other until the border opens, something Robison called “a likely scenario.”

The WHL has not released a schedule.

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