On Tuesday morning, the Keystone Junior Hockey League announced that it will be pushing its proposed start date for the 2020-21 season back to December. This decision comes on the heels of the deadliest week in Manitoba since the arrival of the novel coronavirus in the province back in early-March.
“Due to the ever-evolving COVID-19 situation in the province of Manitoba, the KJHL has made the decision to postpone the start of the regular season to Saturday, December 5,” league President Ed Albert told Game On. “We will monitor case counts and the impact on the health care system over the course of the next month before re-evaluating.”
This decision – made by by Albert and each of the league’s five member team governors – was not a matter that was taken lightly. With 831 new cases of COVID-19 and 14 new deaths within the province this past week, Manitoba is on pace to hit 5,000 cases by the end of the week. There are over 2,000 active cases within the province, while Manitoba hit a new test positivity high on Monday, with positive cases coming back at 7.1 percent.
Currently, many parts of Manitoba are under ‘Code Orange’, to which gathering sizes are minimized, mask use is mandatory and the general public has been advised to stay home unless it’s absolutely necessary. Although some of these regulations are not in effect for the communities of the five KJHL teams, the proactive approach that Albert and Co. have demonstrated, indicates a difficult, community-first response, rather than potentially a reactionary decision to cancel the entire season, should the league have moved ahead with its originally scheduled Saturday, November 7 start date.
Typically hosting a 28-34 game regular season, the official number of games for the 2020-21 regular season has yet to be determined, with the schedule to be attended to in the coming weeks. Originally focusing on starting the season in early November, the league has surveyed the the playing field and determined that taking a pause is the best immediate course of action.
Last season, NCN and OCN led the way atop the KJHL scoreboard with 23-7-2 and 20-12-0 records, respectively. The Peguis Juniors and Cross Lake Islanders also maintained records slightly over .500, while last place Norway House North Stars put up a dismal seven points and a -224 goal differential.
A number of the league’s teams had already begun pre-season, exhibition matchups in preparation for the 2020-21 season. Exhibition games – at this point – are still permitted, but with restricted travel within many of the league’s communities, the possibilities of matchups is currently much more difficult.
Hockey Manitoba has released its third version of the return-to-play protocol, which highlights the significant changes put into place for the 2020-21 hockey season, including spectator numbers, mask use, arrival times, the appointment of a communications officer for each team, as well as proper hygiene, self-screening, player tracking, team meetings and much more.