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So far so good for the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s return to play

The limit for a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) exhibition or regular-season game, in any arena in the province, is 150 fans. But the league is still hoping that will increase.

As required by public health, those fans have to wear masks the entire time while in the arena, minus when they are enjoying some rink fries or a beverage. And after the first few pre-season games on the schedule, so far so good.

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“We did have a few hiccups with some fans moving seats but it was fixed easily and the fans were really receptive from the feedback that we gave them,” says Jennifer Whyte, Battlefords North Stars business director.

“They all are well aware that we need them to follow the rules for their own safety and the longevity of the season so we really didn’t have a lot of issue with push back with the rules.”

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Every team in the league will play four exhibition games — two at home, two on the road — and all of them against the same team. Then they begin their 50 games regular season, down from 58. Fans will get used to the rules or protocols and know what is allowed and not allowed in this new game day experience.

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“You know seven months ago when COVID hit and the whole pandemic hit, we didn’t know how to follow the rules in grocery stores. It took a few days to figure that out. And it’s no different here in the rinks. People will just kind of have to come to a few games and learn the flow, and people will get it after a while,” Whyte said.

The players and coaches had hockey taken away from them when the pandemic hit. They are now more than excited to have it back in their lives and part of their daily routine.

“I mean since whenever they told us that we couldn’t go to the rink anymore, back in February or March, yeah it seems like forever,” says Klippers head coach and GM Ken Plaquin. “And we have been itching to get to this point, so we’re very excited.”

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“You hope that you’re bringing some type of entertainment in the wintertime for these folks, that, what else are you going to do on a -40 C night on a Tuesday, right?” added Brayden Klimosko, North Stars head coach and GM.

“You got to do something, and hopefully if you come to the rink you are going to enjoy yourself. You know it will help your mental health. Grab a burger maybe even, and enjoy yourself a little bit. Because during these times, that’s what we kind of need.”

The regular season is expected to get underway on Nov. 6.