For the second straight year, the Canalta Cup trophy will not be handed out in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
The 12-team circuit announced in a prepared statement on Tuesday morning that the 2020-21 season had been cancelled, citing the inability to have their return to play plans approved by the Government of Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Health Authority.
“The current conditions of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan do not appear to allow a return to play, now or in the next few weeks,” league president Bill Chow said in the press release.
“The SJHL will now turn its focus on returning to play in September of 2021 and having a complete season, ending with the crowning of the SJHL champion.”
News of the SJHL’s return to play plan being rejected came out in a story on Discover Weyburn from Weyburn Red Wings announcer Nick Nielsen Monday night.
The story confirmed a rumour that the league was looking at holding a hub city at Crescent Point Place in Weyburn.
“It’s a mountain that we tried to climb and came up a bit short and I think we did the best we could is to try and have a season for our players,” Red Wings general manager and head coach Rich Pilon said to Nielsen. “We had seven teams that were committed, and probably the government has their reasons, whether it be whatever it is, but you know you got the British Columbia Hockey League that’s going, you’ve got the Alberta Junior Hockey League that’s going, and you got all the WHL going, but they’re saying we’re going to prolong a little bit longer for you guys, which is just instead of just saying ‘no, we don’t want to play that, just prolong it’ to try and make us make that decision now which, to me, it’s not right.
“We can’t wait another two or three weeks before things change, but that’s just the way of saying no to us, right? We can’t keep rinks open and expect people to wait. We were already at the end here. We had to find out this week whether we could. Teams are getting impatient, players are getting impatient. We self quarantine these kids for upwards of 20 days, which is really brutal when you come to think about it now that they did what they were asked, and then the government never gave the okay.”
According to an article by Darren Zary of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, the Estevan Bruins, Flin Flon Bombers, Kindersley Klippers, Humboldt Broncos, Melfort Mustangs, Nipawin Hawks and Red Wings were committed to play in the hub, while the Battlefords North Stars, La Ronge Ice Wolves, Melville Millionaires, Notre Dame Hounds and Yorkton Terriers had all opted out of a trip to Weyburn.
“You’ve got to give a big pat on the back to everyone who has tried and make this happen as they put a lot of work and effort to get this done,” La Ronge Ice Wolves head coach and general manager Kevin Kaminski said to the Daily Herald on Tuesday.
“The news that we got today absolutely sucks. It’s frustrating to see as there are other leagues that are going and the WHL is going in the COVID-19 hotbed in Regina.”
The SJHL had started their campaign on Nov. 6, but it came to a halt nearly three weeks later as all competitive sports in the province stopped play due to the rise in COVID-19 numbers.
The league joins the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, the Superior International Junior Hockey League and U Sports in officially being unable to finish their 2020-21 campaigns.
“When we started the season we only had one case with a player in Melfort, but everyone was following the protocols with 150 fans and then things shut down,” Kaminski said.
“I wish we would have had an answer a few days before the trade deadline in the CJHL, as we could have given these kids a chance to play somewhere else instead of being in limbo. We’ve talked a lot about the mental health for these kids and they’ve turned down jobs and their lives to just kind of work out and do nothing just to play the waiting game.”
The 2021-22 season is currently expected to see the Estevan Bruins host the Centennial Cup, but that has yet to be confirmed with the Portage Terriers and Penticton Vees both unable to host the tournament over the last two seasons as a result of the pandemic.
“I’ve been getting texts from kids and agents asking me if we’re going to be having a spring camp and I’m telling them ‘I wish we were,’” Kaminski said.
“You can think the plan, but you can’t plan it. Let’s say we decided to plan a spring camp for the middle of May…I don’t think things are going to be going by then. I guess we’ll just wait and see what happens until the next restrictions from the province comes out.”