For the second straight year, the COVID-19 pandemic has put the kibosh on the Saskatchewan Hockey Association’s provincial championships.
The SHA announced on Wednesday that they had cancelled this year’s playoffs and their carded team programs as a result of the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.
“The decision was not an easy one, however at, this point the SHA’s focus is simply to get everyone back to playing games in a league environment to salvage the season,” SHA general manager Kelly McClintock said in a prepared statement. “There was no way we could accommodate separate competitions within the environment we are living in.
“Right now, we are simply fortunate to be able to have minor hockey teams practice when you compare our situation to the two neighbouring provinces (Alberta and Manitoba) who are not able to play or practice in any fashion.”
According to Prince Albert Minor Hockey technical director James Mays, Wednesday’s announcement was made in order to ensure that the bubbles that each team has in their leagues aren’t broken when play resumes.
“If you leave the bubble of the league that you are in, you have to wait 14 days before going back into it,” Mays said. “Using Shellbrook as an example, their pee wee teams are playing here in the Prince Albert league. If they go into the provincials and end up playing a team like Unity, that would affect not just their schedules but the teams in the league they are in.
“The SHA’s line of thinking is that when we get the leagues going, that’s a much safer route and we can hopefully still have league playoffs for those teams later in the year.”
The SHA provincial playoffs begin in the middle of February and usually end around the start of April.
Last year’s playdowns were in the semifinal stage for most divisions when all hockey activities in the province came to a halt in March as a result of the pandemic.
Only a handful of teams in Prince Albert take part in the provincial playoffs each year, as the AA age-level programs tend to compete in the post-season tournaments for their respective leagues.
“The winners of the north and south divisions would play in a championship series, with the winner of that being declared a provincial champion,” Mays said. “The hope is those events would happen later in the season.”
Teams in Prince Albert Minor Hockey are currently on their Christmas break and are expected to return to the ice again when the calendar turns over to 2021.
“Our teams are allowed to continue practicing within the guidelines that are set right now, which is having eight players out on the ice at a time,” Mays said. “That runs until Jan. 15 when we are expecting to get some new guidelines, which could include a return to full practice and a potential to get back playing games in February.
“Like everything else though, it’s a day-to-day process and all we can do right now is keep our fingers crossed.”