It’s no secret that the hockey world has been tipped on its head over the course of the past seven-and-a-half months. With amateur, minor, junior and professional hockey having come to a screeching stop midway through March, many leagues within the province of Manitoba have yet to return to action.
The Western Hockey League is one of those.
Seeing its 2019-20 season originally fall under the ‘suspended’ category, before ultimately watching the cancellation of both the remaining regular season and playoff games, the WHL Board of Governors has recently made the announcement that the league will return for the 2020-21 season on Friday, January 8, 2021.
So what exactly does that mean for the players?
Many have not skated competitively since March – which very well might be the longest stretch of time off the ice since early childhood. While some are rolling with the punches and hoping to resume hockey activity soon, others have been proactive in finding other allowable teams/leagues to suit up for.
These decisions do not come lightly.
Both teams and players have insurance policies in place to ensure their ultimate safety. With a lack of attention to details/clauses in contracts, those policies can easily go down the drain. Players of high-calibre are also property of various other junior teams (by way of draft selection or protected list), and failure to comply with those governing bodies will also result in suspension or contract termination.
Last week, the WHL announced that its players would be allowed to pursue further affiliated hockey opportunities in order to remain in shape leading up to the start of the WHL season in January. Allowable league play includes Junior ‘A’, Junior ‘B’, or Under-18 levels through mid-December with WHL Training Camps set to begin following the Christmas break.
“This is an opportunity for WHL roster players to continue their development by playing hockey at a competitive level,” said WHL Commissioner Ron Robison in a league-issued release. “We felt it was very important to accommodate the requests of WHL roster players to play competitive hockey on a temporary basis in anticipation of WHL Training Camps beginning after Christmas.”
Players granted temporary transfers from their WHL clubs would be allowed to join their ‘new junior team’ for the first half of the 2020-21 season, until required back with their Western League club. These decisions obviously come with the potential consequence of injury, however, the overall goal of staying involved in high-level hockey typically trumps the risk of injury in the minds of most.
For brothers Brad (2000-born) and Riley Ginnell (2002-born), a decision was made to leave their respective WHL clubs and travel up north to the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Flin Flon Bombers – Yes, the SJHL.
Although hosted in Manitoba, the Bombers are the only team from outside the province of Saskatchewan to be a part of the SJHL. In closer proximity to the SJHL teams than the teams making up Manitoba’s Junior ‘A’ league, the decision was made years ago to have Flin Flon play within that league.
The Ginnells – who have most recently suited up against one another within the WHL – will be making their SJHL debut Saturday night, while playing on the same team. Not only will they be on any old team, but rather a team of significant history within their family. In 1957, Pat Ginnell – grandfather of Brad and Riley – helped lead the Bombers to the Memorial Cup Championship, before going on to be one of the WHL’s greatest coaches in its history.
Ginnell’s No. 11 still hangs from the rafters in Flin Flon – right next to the sweaters of fellow Manitoba greats Bobby Clarke and Reggie Leach – highlighting Ginnell’s time as a player (1956-57) as well as that as a coach and GM (1966-74). His 518 WHL wins rank him eighth all-time, while his 963 games coached places him 10th in league history. Following his time in junior, Pat Ginnell went on to scout with the National Hockey League’s St. Louis Blues for 14 seasons.
Working down the family tree is Pat’s son, Erin. Although never a part of the Bombers organization, the 52-year-old Medicine Hat, AB. product also has held many prominent roles within the hockey community. Playing in both the SJHL and WHL, Erin followed his father’s footsteps in scouting within the NHL, beginning in 2000. He has spent time with Columbus, Colorado, Florida and Vegas – where he currently serves as the Golden Knights’ Western Canada Amateur Scout.
Now skating underneath the Ginnell sweater at the Whitney Forum, Brad and Riley will look to leave their mark on Bombers history as WHL reinforcements for Flin Flon, which finds itself 1-2-0 through three preseason games. The Bombers are set to begin the 2020-21 regular season on Friday, November 6 at Northern Lights Place in Melfort in a 7:30 PM showdown against the Mustangs.
Brad, 20, suited up with both the Winnipeg ICE and Spokane Chiefs last season, scoring 13 times, while adding 10 assists for 23 points in 50 total regular season games. He added another 49 penalty minutes to his stat line throughout the course of the 2019-20 season. After being drafted in the fifth round by Portland, Ginnell played a season-and-a-half for the Winterhawks, before being shipped to the then-Kootenay ICE. He was traded to Spokane from Winnipeg partway through the 2019-20 season, before being claimed off Waivers by the Moose Jaw Warriors this September. The Warriors have since granted his release to Flin Flon.
Riley, 18, was drafted in the seventh round of the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft by the Kamloops Blazers. He was dealt to Manitoba’s Brandon Wheat Kings in exchange for a 2021 sixth round pick in mid-September of 2019. The 6-foot-3, 175-pound winger skated in 25 games games with the Wheaties in 2019-20, putting up three goals, four points and eight penalty minutes in his time as a bottom-six forward. Prior to joining Brandon, Ginnell played within the Canadian Sport School Hockey League with the Edge School prep team, where he collected 10 goals, 19 points and 38 penalty minutes in 24 regular season games as a 16-year-old. He has been temporarily released to Flin Elon.