‘It’s a devastating blow’: MJHL pulls the plug on 2020/21 season

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League has pulled the plug on its 2020/21 season after new health orders prohibited an indoor on-ice return for at least another three weeks.

With the restrictions going into early March, the league said it was unfair for the facilities, the communities, players and staff to find a way forward.

“Once we had a clear understanding of what the (restrictions) entailed, and how that was not a benefit for our league individually, and really all of minor hockey and indoor organized sports at this time, we made the decision to cancel the remainder of the season,” said Kevin Saurette, commissioner of the MJHL.

Advocacy efforts for a return to the ice began back in June with the approval of the league’s Return to Play plan and haven’t stopped. Since the league was shut down because of code red restrictions, Sourette said it was hopeful for a possible return.

“From day one of pausing on November 12, our number one goal was just to get the players back into their communities safely and back on the ice to resume training activities,” he said. “Essentially, we’ve run out of time with no daylight ahead.”

Consequences to the cancelled season are far-reaching. The 12-team league has about 300 players and another 40-50 staff. Some of those players will age out, not knowing that they had already played their final games. Communities and facilities will also be directly affected.

If health orders are loosened, Sourette said there is the possibility of some on-ice activities resuming, dependent on teams’ facility availabilities and unique circumstances.

“That could be anything. If group sizes increase, full return to team practices, potentially exhibition games if public health orders allow for it,” he said.

Right now, Sourette said, the league’s teams are focused on stabilizing the financial side of their operations, with hopes to return for a 2021/22 season.

“It’s definitely going to be a difficult summer, and our number one goal is to ensure every team remains viable so that they can continue operating in their communities and provide the economic impact, social and cultural impact, that they’ve been doing for decades.”

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