A northern Manitoba team that plays in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) has put its season on hold as it awaits further guidance on COVID-19 restrictions.
The Flin Flon Bombers were slated to host the Kindersley Klippers in Flin Flon, Man., this weekend. Then the entire province of Manitoba went into level red, or critical, restrictions Thursday to curb skyrocketing COVID-19 numbers.
The new restrictions put a stop to all sports, among other things. Originally, the Bombers opted to play the games in Kindersley, Sask. Now the team is postponing the games until it gets further guidance from Saskatchewan and Manitoba officials, said team president Travis Rideout.
“We’re trying to do everything within our parameters and never stepping outside of the lines because, at the end of the day, we’re just a hockey team,” said Rideout.
“Sports is kind of secondary when it comes to everything in life right now. But we’re looking at all avenues when it comes to continuing our season.”
Over the last two months, COVID-19 cases and deaths have increased drastically in Manitoba, straining the health-care system. As of 9:30 a.m. CST Thursday, there were 6,030 known active COVID-19 cases in the province, including 227 people in hospital.
Since the pandemic hit Manitoba, 132 people who had COVID-19 have died, but 95 of those deaths were in the past month and 39 were within the past week, according to provincial data.
The restrictions that came in Thursday only allow Manitobans to gather with people within their own household. Many businesses are closed or can only operate at a limited capacity. Gyms, fitness centres and sports facilities must close.
The restrictions are the strictest Manitoba has had throughout the entire pandemic, said Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, during a news conference Thursday.
The Bombers do not fall under the jurisdiction of the Hockey Manitoba because the team competes in Saskatchewan, said Hockey Manitoba executive director Peter Woods. But all Manitobans fall under public health rules.
Although COVID-19 numbers are escalating in Saskatchewan, they are lower than in Manitoba.
As of Thursday, there were 1,459 total known active cases in Saskatchewan. Sports are allowed under the province’s current public health orders. The SJHL announced last month that a regular season for its 12-team league was approved. Puck-drop was Nov. 2.
‘We’re just trying to figure out everything’
The Saskatchewan Hockey Association, which governs amateur hockey in Saskatchewan, said Thursday morning that the Bombers were moving to Creighton, Sask., a town two kilometres west of Flin Flon, Man., and that Saskatchewan and Manitoba officials approved the move.
Saskatchewan’s business response team and health ministry are working with the Bombers, SJHL and Manitoba Health regarding the impact of Manitoba’s new public health order and the team’s ability to play, a Saskatchewan government spokesperson told CBC News.
Manitoba officials did not have to approve it, Roussin told reporters Thursday, but he discouraged the behaviour.
“The orders are in there for a reason, and ultimately that reason is to save Manitobans lives. So I would encourage all Manitobans to not look for ways around the orders,” he said.
“I know it’s tough, and I know this situation probably seems innocuous, but it’s not. We’ve limited these types of gatherings, this type of recreation, because we’ve seen spread there.”
As of roughly 3 p.m. CST Thursday, Rideout said that there are currently no plans to temporarily move the team to Saskatchewan.
“We’re just trying to figure out everything we can as a team,” said Rideout. “It’s not that we got caught with our pants down here. We were thinking we were doing things within the guidelines that were set for us.
“At the end of the day, we are a hockey team … and I can tell you that we’re never, ever wanting to use the system to our advantage.”