Provincial government provides much-needed cash boost to SJHL and WHL teams

Daily Herald File Photo Swift Current Broncos defenceman Alex Moar and Prince Albert Raiders forward Ilya Usau battle for the puck during a game at the Art Hauser Centre last February.

Other than a brief resumption of play for the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League in early November, junior hockey has been halted in Saskatchewan since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the province last March.

With the status of the 2020-21 season still up in the air for the SJHL and the Western Hockey League, the Government of Saskatchewan announced on Friday morning that they would be giving $4 million to help junior hockey teams through the challenges created by the pandemic.

“Our junior hockey teams are a critical part of the cultural fabric and local economies across the province,” Trade and Export Development Minister Jeremy Harrison said in a prepared statement. 

“Necessary restrictions due to COVID-19 have had a significant impact on these leagues and their teams and this support will help them address these financial challenges.”

Each of the five WHL teams in the province (the Moose Jaw Warriors, Prince Albert Raiders, Regina Pats, Saskatoon Blades and the Swift Current Broncos) will receive $600,000 to help address revenue shortfalls from the lack of games in the league since March of 2020.

“It’s huge for our organization as the effects of the pandemic are boarding on catastrophic,” Raiders business manager Michael Scissons said. “Some of the issues that we face are the same for the other two community-owned WHL clubs in the province (Moose Jaw and Swift Current), the two privately-owned WHL teams (Regina and Saskatoon) and the teams in the SJHL.

“The pandemic has completely decimated our ability to run with any sort of normality, so this funding is going to come at an incredible time for the club. It’s not just us though, this helps all of the hockey communities involved in junior hockey throughout our province as junior hockey makes a huge economic impact around Saskatchewan.”

Meanwhile, the SJHL will receive $1 million, which will go directly to the 12-team circuit that features the Battlefords North Stars, Estevan Bruins, Flin Flon Bombers, Humboldt Broncos, Kindersley Klippers, La Ronge Ice Wolves, Melville Millionaires, Melfort Mustangs, Nipawin Hawks, Notre Dame Hounds, Weyburn Red Wings and Yorkton Terriers.

“The SJHL, which consists of community owned teams, has been in a state of uncertainty due to COVID-19 during the past several months,” SJHL President Bill Chow said in a prepared statement. “The financial support that has been provided by the Saskatchewan Government creates a more positive outlook for our teams.”

With no games for WHL clubs since March and a capacity of 150 spectators for SJHL contests during November, teams have had to turn to other methods for fundraising.

In the case of the Raiders, they have sold game puck packages for the 50th anniversary season, brought back a limited amount of retro jerseys to their team store and joined forces with the other four WHL teams in Saskatchewan for the Hockey Harvest Lottery to raise funds for their respective education funds.

“We’ve done our best to be creative and to keep our club in the spotlight,” Scissons said. “Our fans have been fantastic during all of this, but at the end of the day, three of our main sources of revenues (fans, corporate sponsorships and auxiliary events that take place during game nights) just don’t exist like they traditionally have.

“When you look at the Raiders, the economic impact the team has on the city is just over $10 million. It goes beyond that though as we’re involved in leadership and mentorship roles for different community groups and minor sports groups. We saw a couple of years ago (when the Raiders won their first league championship since 1985) just how the power of sports can bring the community together and we hope to continue to do that in years to come.”

At the moment, the Saskatchewan government is the only one in the four Western Canadian jurisdictions that has provided funding to junior hockey leagues.

Steve Ewen of the Vancouver Province reported on Friday that the WHL and the British Columbia Hockey League have both come together to approach the B.C. government for funding.

Meanwhile, the office for Alberta’s Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women Leela Aheer told Red Deer Advocate reporter Byron Hackett that “the minister is having continued discussions with the WHL” and that they are gathering more information to help the league with their recovery.