The NHL may be ramping up for a makeshift playoff schedule, but hockey remains on hold at pretty much every other level just now. There’s no timeline for a return to the rink for the Elmira Sugar Kings or Wellesley Applejacks, let alone minor hockey players.
Local teams are eager to get back onto the ice. That’s particularly true of the Applejacks, whose season came to an abrupt end in the midst of the playoffs. Team president Terry Brick remembers that March night vividly.
“It was a Wednesday night, series at 1-1 in the final round of the South Doherty [division playoffs]. I was really disappointed. The overtime game was at home here against Tavi [Tavistock] – it was the most exciting hockey race in a long time, so, I was looking forward to the rest of the series.”
The next morning, the decision came down from the Provincial Junior Hockey League that the remainder of the season would not play out due to the growing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
Now, the team is looking forward to a new season, not just to bring hockey back for the fans but to maintain the organization’s financial health.
“We rely on the revenue coming in – it’s a huge part of our income, and it takes a lot of money to run a team,” said Brick, adding he’s “a little nervous about where the sponsors are – they’re having a tough year, for sure. And then we come along and we’re still asking for money for the team like we always do. Our sponsors have been very good to us and they continue to do so.”
The Elmira Sugar Kings are also awaiting news on the season ahead, having also experienced a sudden end to the last one. The Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League remains in limbo.
Head coach Rob Collins says he’s uncertain about what the season may look like for his team. As with the cancellation of last season, what happens next is out of the team’s hands.
“There was disappointment, for sure,” he said of the abrupt end. “But one of the things we kind of preached and live by as a unit was not worrying about stuff that’s out of your control only, we can’t do anything about it. So, why worry about it? It’s kind of wasted energy.”
When out and about in Elmira, Collins is often asked about plans for the upcoming season. As nothing is certain, he simply asks for the fans’ support for what emerges.
“Get behind your local product. There’s a good group of kids that work hard. And, you know, we’ll strive to make the local town proud.”
As with the junior hockey leagues, minor hockey organizations also face uncertain times.
The Woolwich Minor Hockey Association, for instance, is awaiting decisions from Hockey Canada and the OMHA (Ontario Minor Hockey Association), said Donna Harrington.
“Right now, were able to pre-register for the upcoming season but we’re not taking payments. But we’re not sure exactly what the season’s going to look like – we do know things will be changed. We’re working on return-to-play policies and protocols,” she said.
Guidelines are also being worked on following Health Canada to ensure a safe return to play. Among the modifications Harrington foresees are self-screening, keeping track of people using the rinks, dressing rooms may not be opened so players will have to show up in gear, limiting spectators and spaces on the bench between players and coaches.
Woolwich Minor Hockey has its coaches lined up for the season, available on the WMHA website.There has seen an increase in interest despite the pandemic, said Harrington. The organization will be going digital for its annual conference meeting on August 19.
“We understand that things are going to look a little different, but everyone’s going to be … we’re going to make sure that everyone is having a safe environment to play,” she said.