Saskatchewan minor hockey teams under fire after travel to Winnipeg tourney

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WATCH: A group of Saskatchewan based minor hockey teams are under fire after travelling to Winnipeg for an inter-provincial tournament.

Five Saskatchewan minor hockey teams are under fire after traveling to Manitoba to participate in a mid-July Winnipeg tournament amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Four teams from the Wheatland Wild organization — with kids from all over Saskatchewan — and Yorkton’s Parkland Maulers participated in the North American Hockey Classic triple-A tournament July 12 -19.

The Wheatland teams did not compete under their real names, did not put players’ full names on programs, and asked parents not to post where they were on social media.

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Coaches said they felt they were not breaking any rules.

Saskatchewan public health guidelines state that interprovincial travel by sports teams is not permitted during the pandemic.

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“It is very disappointing and concerning to hear some teams that defied guidelines, tried to mask their identities, to play in an interprovincial tournament,” said Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer.

“Sports are about developing leadership skills, team building and fair play. An action to circumvent this is setting a bad example and jeopardizing the entire sector.”

The tournament’s organizer, 50 Below Sports & Entertainment, said it contacted the Saskatchewan government and were told the public health guidelines were specific to Saskatchewan.

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“If they chose to travel outside to another province to participate, they would have to follow that province’s guidelines,” said Rhys Van Kemenade, 50 Below Sports & Entertainment’s teams and tournaments director, in an interview with 680 CJOB.

Travelling players were told to self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms for 14 days, Van Kemenade added.

The teams made the decision to not play under real team names, the names of the players and  ban social media posting to protect the young players, Van Kemenade said, rather than flout the rules.

“They didn’t want to affect the kids’ chances of making teams down the road or anything like that because somebody disagreed with them — so, they just thought it’d be best to not make it public that they were there,” said Van Kemenade.

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Kelly McClintock, Saskatchewan Hockey Association’s general manager, said he had a conversation with the Wheatland Wild organization discouraging them from going to the tournament.

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Although not part of the SHA, McClintock said he wasn’t happy to hear about Wheatland’s choice to attend.

“In a normal year, in a normal situation, we wouldn’t be involved at all,” McClintock said.

“But because we’re working with the provincial government and the COVID-19 business response team on a return to hockey season, it’s really important for us.”

Wheatland was among a number hockey organizations McClintock reached out to promote the province’s mandate of avoiding travel until a return-to-play plan was in place for next season.

“I said there’s nothing I can do or say from a sanctioning point of view and discipline point of view, that’s the first thing,” McClintock said.

“But second, I said, ‘do you want to play hockey this fall? And he said, well, of course I want to. Then you have to assist us in working towards this because, you know, you could potentially put things at risk here.’

“These are four hockey teams that had kids stretching from Prince Albert down to Estevan and the entire eastern part of the province. The potential risk, from a spreading perspective, is huge.”

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Sixty-eight teams total competed with players between the ages of seven and 13-years-old between five different facilities and 13 sheets of ice.

Van Kemenade also said there were about five teams from northwestern Ontario — Kenora, Dryden and Sioux Lookout.

Van Kemenade added that the tournament followed all physical distancing and gathering protocols, including a cap on the number of spectators.

Manitoba’s premier was asked by reporters about the Winnipeg tournament at an unrelated press conference Wednesday.

“If the reports are accurate — and I have no verification of that at this point, if they’re accurate — obviously I am very disappointed and I’m sure that hockey organizers, coaches, players, volunteers all around the country are disappointed in that behaviour,” Brian Pallister said, referring to CBC Saskatchewan’s initial report on the tournament Wednesday.

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Furthermore, the Manitoba government told Global News on Wednesday via email that Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living received an anonymous complaint about a hockey tournament taking place in Winnipeg in mid-July.

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“Tournaments/competitions with multiple teams represent an increased risk of COVID-19 transmission due to the high number of participants, staff and volunteers, travel of participants from other regions and the potential for individuals gathering before and after games,” the email read.

“While not a violation of orders, Manitoba public health does not recommend tournaments at this time. Manitoba does not currently place any restrictions on travellers from Saskatchewan.”

Shabab is telling everyone who travelled from Saskatchewan to Manitoba and back for the tournament to self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms.

— With files from the Canadian Press

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