50 Below Sports + Entertainment has some serious explaining to do.
As first reported in the form of an anonymous email to MJHL President Kevin Saurette (BCC’d to members of the local Manitoba sports media) images allegedly bearing the resemblance of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Winnipeg Blues and Winnipeg Freeze Junior ‘A’ hockey teams holding practice this past week were leaked online and have since been circulating on the internet.
Although this would be nothing newsworthy a few weeks back, Manitoba’s provincial government instilled a ‘Code Red’ initiative throughout the Winnipeg Metropolitan Region last Monday, November 2, before adding the Southern Health-Santé Sud Region to the mix this past week. On Thursday, November 12, the entire province will enter a ‘Code Red’ shutdown with further restrictions in place.
After hearing that ‘a number of teams’ had been skirting the restrictions surrounding zero hockey activity within the Winnipeg Metropolitan Region, Hockey Manitoba reiterated its orders that teams based within that region were not allowed to travel outside the forbidden region to hold practices, team events, off-ice training, or any sort of gatherings.
“For the safety of all members, both hockey teams and individuals (players, officials, and team staff) residing in the Winnipeg Metropolitan Region are ineligible to participate in hockey programming beginning November 2, 2020 and will be revisited on November 15, 2020,” read a statement from Hockey Manitoba on the morning of November 2.
On top of the Winnipeg Blues and Winnipeg Freeze, the Selkirk Steelers make up that original three-team grouping within the MJHL unable to practice. This past week, the Winkler Flyers, Steinbach Pistons and Portage Terriers have been added to that list. Currently left in play were the five clubs within the Prairie Mountain Health Region: Neepawa Natives, Virden Oil Capitals, Waywayseecappo Wolverines, Dauphin Kings, and Swan Valley Stampeders, as well as the one team belonging to Manitoba’s Northern Health Region: OCN Blizzard.
The MJHL was set to participate in its first scheduled ‘break week’ of the season, with no games to be played during the weekend of November 13-15. The league implemented various schedule breaks throughout the 2020-21 season to allow players to recover following potential COVID exposure, while also providing some leeway for rescheduled games that may have earlier been cancelled. Teams outside of the Winnipeg/Southern regions that were eligible to resume the set schedule were originally planning to do so following this weekend, but with the province more or less ‘shutting down’, all recreational facilities will be closed for a minimum of four weeks (beginning Thursday, November 12) according to Manitoba’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin.
According to information provided through the email, the Winnipeg Blues and Freeze practiced at the Sunova Arena in Warren (outside the restricted area) on Monday, and had further practices scheduled for Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at the same venue. Videos and image stills captured from ‘Live Barn’ in-rink cameras operating within the community centre clearly show players wearing the Blues and Freeze practice attire while huddled around a clipboard during the explanations of drills. Roughly 25 skaters were on the ice per session.
Not only did the two teams owned by 50 Below Sports + Entertainment illegally book the ice and use it for practices against direct orders from both the Province of Manitoba and the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, they did so in a manner that attempted to falsify what they were doing. Originally booking their ice under their two team names, the Blues and Freeze since changed their bookings to bear the namesake of Larry Woo’s ‘Laker Academy’, as shown by the following screen grabs:
50 Below took out nine separate daytime ice slots throughout this current work week. The booking information has since been removed from Warren’s arena website. The connection between the Warren Arena and 50 Below Sports + Entertainment is Rhys van Kemenade, an employee of 50 Below, who also serves as President of Warren Arena.
50 Below is certainly in line for massive repercussions following such a selfish act of blatant disobedience amid a global pandemic. Both Hockey Manitoba and the MJHL have begun investigations into this matter.