The ice in, but Kelowna’s Prospera Place is empty.
There are no fans in the stands. The benches are vacant and the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets dressing room is deserted.
“We just don’t see there being any way that we can safely have our players back here,” Rockets president and general manager Bruce Hamilton told Global News on Wednesday.
One day earlier, the Western Hockey League announced that it was indefinitely postponing the start to its 2020-21 regular season.
The junior hockey league had originally set a date of Oct. 2, but that wound up getting pushed back to Jan. 8.
According to the WHL, the indefinite scenario is probably going to stay that way for some time because of public health regulations.
“We fully understand that and fully, fully, support what is going on,” said Hamilton.
So much so that when the WHL recently announced that their Jan. 8th start date was impossible, the league didn’t bother to propose a new date.
“I think we are being wise to not name a date,” said Hamilton.
“To me, that becomes an issue for the players they get their hopes up.”
No one had their hopes up more than head coach Kris Mallette, who was handed the Rockets’ reins last February.
“I got a brief glimpse of it five games in and it was fantastic,” said Mallette. “And then, obviously, COVID hit.”
Though the pandemic has sidelined hockey, Mallette sees the big picture clearly.
“There’s a bigger issue at hand,” he said. “This pandemic is not going away.”
Like any good coach, Mallette refuses to feel bad for himself because of the situation, but certainly showed empathy for others.
“I feel really bad for those players that had to end on those terms, our 20-year-olds,” he said.
Mallette’s coaching duties now are maintaining daily contact with his players, dealing with their hopes and frustrations and checking in on their mental health.
“Just reassuring that we will get through this,” Mallette added.
This latest delay, though, is going to have a major impact on the Rockets and other WHL teams.
“We are going to have some teams that are going to really struggle,” said Hamilton. “It’s up to the rest of us to help make sure that they make it through.”
Hamilton said the league is scheduled to meet sometime in January to see when and if they can safely move forward with a season.