Hockey programs in Prince Albert adjusting to stoppage in play

Jason Kerr/Daily Herald The Prince Albert Mintos gather around coach Danton Danielson during a time out on Sunday, Nov. 15. The Mintos are among the many local teams who’ve had their season put on hold following Wednesday’s announcement.

For the second time in 2020, hockey in Prince Albert has stopped for the time being.

As part of the new measures from the Government of Saskatchewan that went into effect on Friday, all team and group sports in the province have been put on hold until Thursday, Dec. 17 in an effort to slow down the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While it’s unclear when exactly the sport will return around the province, many leagues and teams have already stated that they aren’t expecting to return to action until the start of 2021.

Prince Albert Minor Hockey

Wednesday’s announcement didn’t come as a total surprise to PA Minor Hockey technical director James Mays, but there was still some hope within the organization that play would continue until Dec. 17.

“That was when we were scheduled to start our shutdown during the holidays, which would have lasted until Dec. 30 before we started play again until Jan. 2, which still might happen depending on how things go here in the coming weeks,” Mays said.

“There’s a lot of extra work that goes into the scheduling and making sure we have 45 minutes to an hour between games and ice times to get everyone in and out of the arenas, so we will have to redo all of that once we get back going. There have been some talks at the provincial level (Saskatchewan Hockey Association) about extending the season a little bit to later in April to make sure that the kids still get a normal amount of games, but like everyone at the moment things are up in the air and we are just hoping for the best.”

Prince Albert Mintos

As of Thursday afternoon, there were still a lot of question marks as to what was next for the Saskatchewan Male Under-18 AAA Hockey League club, who were preparing to host the Saskatoon Contacts on Friday night at the Art Hauser Centre.

“We’re still in the process of gather information here and seeing how we can keep the guys on the ice with the limited number of players that can practice while they are also going to school,” Mintos team manager Kalen Wright said. “It’s definitely not easy that’s for sure.”

In addition to the four games that the team was scheduled to play in December, the Mintos also have a quartet of contests that need to be made up after they were cancelled earlier this month for a variety of reasons.

“I’m not really sure what the schedule is going to look like for a lot of teams once we get back to playing,” Wright said.

“I know that our schedule is going to be a little difficult to play, especially if the Western Hockey League returns to action in January and the Raiders begin to book their dates. I suspect we will have to play more than twice a week in order to get those games in.”

Prince Albert Northern Bears

It’s a case of déjà vu for the 2021 Esso Cup hosts as the Bears were gearing up for the playoffs last March when the 2019-20 season came to an early end and prevented them from hosing the national Under-18 Female National Championship tournament.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty at the moment but the girls are doing their best to stay positive, which I give them a lot of credit for, and we’re staying hanging on to the hope that we will be playing again,” Bears head coach Jeff Willoughby said after the team’s practice on Wednesday night.

“There’s a lot up in the air right now as to what our December is going to look like. We’re going to sit down as a group with our staff, board members and the parents as to what their feelings and thoughts are before we move forward.”

The Bears only had two games scheduled before the Christmas break, as they had a home-and-home series slated with the Battlefords Sharks on Dec. 4 and 5.

“Even though it’s changed a few times, we still have our season plan in place,” Willoughby said. “We’re fortunate that we’ve had a few games under our belts, which will allow us to sit down and look at the video and work on some things that we can improve on.”

Prince Albert Titans

The news that hockey was coming to a stop in Saskatchewan was something that Titans head coach and director of hockey operations Kim Dryka felt was a possibility, especially as he kept a close eye on the situations in Alberta and Manitoba.

“We support the decision and I think everyone will,” Dryka said. “At the end of the day, it’s all about making things safe for everyone.

“If we can get the numbers down, it will be a lot safer for people to be around each other in public and hopefully around the rinks.”

The Titans had eight games on their schedule going into the Christmas break, including a Friday night home contest with the Carrot River Outback Thunder at the Kinsmen Arena.

“The Prairie Junior Hockey League is going to have Zoom meetings over the next few days and we’re going to figure a few things out about what’s next,” Dryka said.

“If there is a positive that can come out of this break, this will allow us to get our guys to healthy and we’ll have a full roster when we return to play.”

Prince Albert Venice House Pirates

The Under-15 AA Pirates are one of the few teams in the province that are heading into the break on a positive note as they picked up a dramatic 4-3 overtime win over the Saskatoon Generals last Friday night at the Kinsmen Arena.

“It’s unfortunate that we were short-staffed for that first weekend as we really showed what we could do against the Generals and I think we would have had a really good chance to do well against the (Saskatoon) Stallions at home this weekend,” Pirates head coach Rod Dallman said.

“I was a little surprised that we weren’t part of the first closures that we were announced a couple of weeks ago, but we’ll go forward with the regulations and figure out our plan for the next few weeks before Christmas and what we’ll do now with no games taking place.”

Dallman also made sure to note that he felt the teams did a great job in terms of following the guidelines to help get hockey back underway.

“We had only gone to Saskatoon and Humboldt for road games but I thought everyone there was making sure that hand sanitizers were out and that the lists of people who could come to the rink were accurate,” Dallman said. “Our team manager Dale Rohovich has done an excellent job for us here in making sure that our kids were staying safe and that everything was being followed.”

The Pirates had six games remaining on their schedule before the Christmas break.

Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League

Wednesday’s announcement also brought a pause to the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s 2020-21 campaign, which is not expected to resume until January at the earliest.

“I guess it will be interesting to see what comes out of the rest of the season before I can really say what the hardships will be, but there will be hardships, let me tell you that,” SJHL president Bill Chow said in an interview with Kevin Mitchell of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

“It’s the volunteers and communities that are operating these teams and the struggle is real for them. The struggle is real for a lot of operations right now outside of hockey. For us, it’s hockey. What the final number will look like, I have no clue, but I know it will be real and it’s going to hurt.”

With the SJHL coming to a halt, no Junior A leagues in Western Canada are currently playing.

The Manitoba Junior Hockey League paused all activities on Nov. 12, while the Alberta Junior Hockey League announced late Wednesday night that they were putting their regular season on pause until a board of governors meeting on Dec. 19.

The British Columbia Hockey League completed an extended pre-season last week and has delayed the start of their 2020-21 campaign until Dec. 8.

Meanwhile, the Western Hockey League is still targeting a Jan. 8, 2021 start date for their season, though a schedule has yet to be officially released.