In the wake of major sports leagues suspending their seasons, fears of the coronavirus (COVID-19) have now reached local hockey teams.
On March 12, the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League (GOJHL) announced they were cancelling the remainder of their 2020 playoff season. The Provincial Junior Hockey League (PJHL) also announced they were suspending league operations – including practices. Both came into effect March 13.
The Elmira Sugar Kings of the GOJHL and the Wellesley Applejacks of the PJHL are local junior teams affected by these moves.
The Kings had just started their second-round playoff series against the Stratford Warriors, while the Jacks had just tied up the third-round series against the Tavistock Braves.
The news came the same day as Hockey Canada announcing they were cancelling all sanctioned activities, including national championships.
In a statement from Terry Whiteside, commissioner of the PJHL, and Sandra Neubauer, chair of the board of directors, they say the league is following the lead from Hockey Canada, the Ontario Hockey Federation and the Ontario Hockey Association to keep players safe.
“The health and safety of players, staff, volunteers and fans is of utmost importance to the Provincial Junior Hockey League. Accordingly, the PJHL has been closely following news of the COVID-19 pandemic and has remained in regular contact with Hockey Canada and the Ontario Hockey Federation through our governing body, the Ontario Hockey Association,” reads the release.
Brock Gerber, general manager of the Applejacks, said he was notified early Friday morning that the team’s season was over and he’s disappointed with the outcome considering their most recent performance in a game.
“Obviously we felt we were picking up momentum after the big double OT win in game two and are disappointed the season has ended this way,” said Gerber. “We want to thank our volunteers, players and fans for a great season. On behalf of the Wellesley Applejacks organization we hope everyone stays healthy here and look forward to seeing you all soon. Go Jacks go!”
The Sugar Kings share the same sentiment of disappointment.
Jeff Snyder, director of hockey operations, says he feels bad for those who do not get to finish their junior years.
“We felt we had a good opportunity to compete for the championship this spring based on our first-place finish,” said Snyder. “Our team was a very close knit group this year and they really took pride in representing the Elmira Sugar Kings in a positive way both on and off the ice. We felt they were a very hard working, disciplined group that provided exciting hockey for our great fans.”
The cancellations applied to all minor hockey leagues and team, as well, with the season coming to an abrupt end before the playoffs could be resolved.
With the prevalence of COVID-19, other sports may be in jeopardy and the upcoming seasons for summer sports could be affected.