Premier and chief medical health officer decry five hockey teams who travelled for Winnipeg tournament

Saskatchewan’s premier and chief medical health officer had strong words for five Saskatchewan AAA hockey teams that travelled to a summer tournament in Winnipeg despite a public health order forbidding tournament or interprovincial play.

Four teams from the Saskatchewan Wheatland Wild and one from the Yorkton Parkland Junior Maulers participated in the North American Hockey Classic, held July 16-19.

CBC News broke the story this week. It reported that the Wild teams took measures to hide their participation, including changing their team names, altering players’ names on the roster and reminding parents to refrain from posting anything on social media.

According to the CBC report, the Wild competed under the name of “Lightning” and used only the players’ initials on the game sheets instead of their full names.

Saskatchewan Hockey Association general manager Kelly McClintock said the SHA looked at the game sheets and confirmed that players associated with the Wild had competed.

The Maulers didn’t change their nickname, used the full names of the players on the game sheets, and freely posted information on social media.

The Saskatchewan government recommended against non-essential travel out of the province to battle the spread of the coronavirus.  The Re-Open Saskatchewan plan banned tournaments and interprovincial competition.

CBC reported that a team representative from the Wild contacted the provincial government prior to the tournament and was told that restrictions regarding tournaments were only in Saskatchewan. The Saskatchewan Health Authority said after the tournament that its business response team had provided the wrong advice.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Premier Scott Moe called the news “disturbing.”

“It is disappointing,” Moe said. “And it impacts everyone. They are going outside of what the parameters are and are really putting at risk the entire safe restart of sports we have. Not just with hockey, but with all sports. I’m disappointed that a few teams would put the entire safe restart of the province at risk.”

Moe said Saskatchewan’s success so far can be attributed to people following public health orders.

“This is a prime example of a group of people that have put their own self-interest ahead of the greater public health and safety of their neighbours, their family and their community.”

Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab equated the measures to cheating the system and said they were antithetical to the entire point of organized sports.

“It was very disappointing and concerning to hear that there were some teams that defied guidelines and tried to mask their identities to play in an interprovincial tournament,” he said.

“Most sports teams are complying with the guidelines and playing locally. Sports are about developing leadership skills, team building and fair play. Actions to circumvent this are setting a bad example and jeopardizing the entire sector.”

He said anyone who went on the trip needs to self-monitor for symptoms, and hinted that a public health investigation could result in further penalties.

For Moe, the most upsetting part was that others have sacrificed so much.

“There are people that are forgoing wedding ceremonies or memorial services and celebrations of life for people that have passed and likely are going to have to forgo those for months into the future. There are people who have not seen their loved ones … their families in long-term care centres. There are grandparents across this province limiting access to their grandchildren … for their own protection. This is so disturbing when we have seen the sacrifice of so many in this province, that we’d see someone who is unwilling to sacrifice a hockey tournament one weekend out of the province,” Moe said.

“Saskatchewan people have sacrificed so much more than a hockey tournament in Winnipeg, for example.”

 Representatives from the Wild could not be reached for comment by the Regina Leader-Post. Contact and roster information on the Wild’s web page had been removed as of Wednesday morning.

The Maulers responded with a prepared statement site outlining their position. The statement said the decision to attend the tournament was made after consultations with the Government of Saskatchewan and the province of Manitoba regarding their guidelines and reviewing the measures taken by tournament organizers to keep players and their families safe.

The Yorkton team said it contacted the Saskatchewan Health Authority prior to the tournament and was also informed that the restrictions applied in Saskatchewan and, if the Maulers travelled to Manitoba, they would have to follow the guidelines laid out by the Manitoba government.

 The hockey team also noted that the parents and team management felt safe due to the protocols that were put in the place, adding “the preventive measures were at the same level or above what is in place in Saskatchewan.” The Maulers added that they weren’t contacted or advised by the Saskatchewan Hockey Association not to attend the tournament.

The Saskatchewan Hockey Association doesn’t regulate privately-operated summer programs, however, on July 15, McClintock posted on the association’s website that some teams were considering travelling outside Saskatchewan. The post reminded its members that travelling outside the province wasn’t permitted under the current COVID-19 restrictions.

— With Leader-Post files from Murray McCormick