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WHL players, staff reflect on season being cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic

Click to play video 'WHL players, staff reflect on season being cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic' WHL players, staff reflect on season being cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic
WATCH: WHL players, coaches and staff face the reality that their season is over officially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. – Mar 24, 2020

Mother Nature seems to have a sense of irony. As a late-winter snowfall arrived Saskatchewan this week, junior hockey fans across the province were just beginning to face the reality that their favourite cold-weather distraction is officially done for the season.

The Canadian Hockey League announced Monday that the 2020 playoffs and Memorial Cup would be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision affects all three members of the CHL including the Western Hockey League, which features five teams based in Saskatchewan.

READ MORE: Memorial Cup, WHL playoffs cancelled because of COVID-19

Saskatoon Blades president and general manager Colin Priestner had been waiting for the other shoe to drop ever since the WHL initially suspended play, but said that didn’t make hearing the news any easier.

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“They knew there was no way to look out and say how are we gonna play hockey games to thousands of people in a month or two. It’s just not practical. So it was tough news because we all had to deal with the finality of it,” he said.

Click to play video 'Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton on the WHL’s decision to pause the regular season' Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton on the WHL’s decision to pause the regular season
Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton on the WHL’s decision to pause the regular season – Mar 12, 2020

It took less than two weeks for the league to go from suspending play to cancelling all remaining regular-season games and eventually to pull the plug on the season outright, illustrating just how rapidly the sports landscape, like so much else, has changed during the pandemic.

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Despite the disappointment of having the season cancelled, Priestner knows it had to happen.

“There’s so much bigger problems in the world right now that we can’t even begin to worry about what we feel as hockey players or as managers, that we don’t get to see a playoff. I’m trying to keep in perspective what’s happening here.”

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Nevertheless, it’s still a bitter pill to swallow, especially for those players who now see their junior careers come to an abrupt end.

READ MORE: Manitoba junior hockey on ‘pause’ due to COVID-19

That includes the Blades’ three over-age players, Nolan Kneen, Riley McKay and Scott Walford.

“It’s a sad way to end your 20-year-old season, but at the same time I can look back and say I have no regrets,” Walford said.

“I gave it everything and I’m really happy with the career that I’ve had and the friendships and relationships that I’ve made.”

While the season is over, the WHL’s business continues, albeit with some adjustments.

The bantam draft lottery and inaugural U.S. prospects draft, the latter of which is set to be conducted by telephone, will take place as scheduled on March 25. However, the 2020 WHL awards and bantam draft have been cancelled, with the draft moving to an online format and being rescheduled for April 22.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

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Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.