The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) won’t recommence play to crown a champion in the 2020-21 season.
The league announced that return-to-play submissions made to the province’s government and health officials were not successful.
“In part, the current conditions of COVID-19 in the province of Saskatchewan do not appear to allow a return to play, now or in the next few weeks,” read a SJHL press release on Tuesday.
“SJHL will now turn its focus on returning to play in September of 2021 and having a complete season ending with the crowning of the Saskatchewan Jr Hockey League champion.”
The 2020-21 season was paused in November 2020 with the announcement of public health measures that impacted sports competition.
Last season, the remaining SJHL action on the ice was cancelled on March 13, 2020, due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
La Ronge Ice Wolves head coach and general manager Kevin Kaminiski said they started the season off 4-1 until public health measures led to a pause back in November 2020.
“I mean, as far as the 20-year-olds, it sucks for them … I think we had the right chemistry, the right character and the right people to have a run at winning a championship and it’s just two years in a row now. It just it sucks to end it this way,” Kaminiski said.
“I just don’t understand, like everyone was playing. We had 150 fans in the building. No cases. I think Melfort had the one case with one of their players. That was it and just to get shut down, let’s keep playing. We were following the guidelines.”
Kaminiski said a proposed plan to recommence the season entertained the idea of bubbles in Weyburn and Estevan, although small-market teams like La Ronge wouldn’t have been able to participate due in part to financial reasons.
“The work that Estevan and Weyburn did to try and get this bubble to go, or bubbles … Just, it sucks for them, all the time and effort they put in and so hats off to those organizations for doing all that for us,” Kaminiski said.
“Just the countless hours and I think they (have been) following all the guidelines, they get all the maps and everything else. They did so much work and it just sucks to have it end when kind of everyone around us is playing but us.”
At a COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab spoke about the Western Hockey League (WHL) East Division – consisting of five Saskatchewan teams and two from Manitoba – currently underway via the Regina hub centre.
“So far the (WHL) hub is working successfully, they’re working closely with public health officials in the city … with the University of Regina, it’s a very professional approach that they’ve deployed and it’s working well,” Shahab said.
“That hub exists in the city that unfortunately now is seeing high (COVID-19) rates so they need to again, everyone needs to be very diligent.
“I think the other sports initiatives really will remain at the current restrictions. We’ll have to look closely at what’s possible over time but I think … this is not the time, especially in Regina, to introduce any further relaxations.”
Public health officials said there were 150 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday with the overall infection total in Saskatchewan now at 31,991. The new seven-day average of daily cases is down slightly from 159 on Monday to 158.
The province’s hospitals are currently providing care for 152 patients with COVID-19 — 126 are receiving inpatient care and 26 are in intensive care. There have been 419 COVID-19-related deaths in Saskatchewan to date.