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Hockey Manitoba, MJHL Drop the Hammer on Winnipeg Blues and Freeze

Photo courtesy of Warren Arena

Hockey Manitoba, MJHL Drop the Hammer on Winnipeg Blues and Freeze

It was just nine days ago that the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Winnipeg Blues and Winnipeg Freeze held back-to-back icetimes at the Sunova Arena in Warren – some 25 kilometres from Winnipeg’s Perimeter Highway – against the orders of Hockey Manitoba.

Following an explanatory memorandum from the two teams’ owner, 50 Below Sports + Entertainment, and a quick internal investigation by governing bodies within the Manitoba hockey scene, Hockey Manitoba, in partnership with the MJHL announced its findings and immediate course of action after further examining the situation at hand.

In a long document posted to the Hockey Manitoba website, the following penalties have been awarded to the Blues and Freeze for allowing the teams players to participate in unsanctioned, privately operated practices north of the teams’ home arenas:

  • A $5,000.00 fine to be paid immediately and in full by the ownership group of the Winnipeg Blues/Winnipeg Freeze to the MJHL. Fine payment will go towards COVID-19 PPE relief for frontline workers across the province.
  • Each organization will forfeit their first round draft pick in the upcoming 2021 MJHL Draft.
  • Each organization will be required to complete a community initiative this season as approved by the MJHL and Hockey Manitoba.

Although appearing to be a hefty sum, the $5,000.00 fine is the exact same amount that restaurants, bars, grocery stores and home hardware supply chains have been ticketed for not following proper social distancing measures – as instructed by the provincial government under the current ‘Code Red’ advisory. For instance, Robins Donuts in Brandon appeared on the province’s list of institutions facing a $5,000.00 levy under the current period Wednesday.

Hockey Manitoba’s final report also indicated that none of either the Winnipeg Blues or Freeze coaching staff, Warren Arena staff, management teams, players or parents would be subject to any individual monetary discipline. Although showing disappointment in the Winnipeg-based teams, both Hockey Manitoba and the MJHL have made it clear they would rather turn the focus stemming from this incident to that of a learning experience, rather than lay down the law by throwing the book at 50 Below Sports + Entertainment.

After initial reports surfaced of the unsanctioned events held in Warren last Tuesday, the Blues and Freeze combined on a lengthy explanation of their actions, which the MJHL and Hockey Manitoba referenced Wednesday. Since the release of the final report, both the Blues and Freeze have combined to issue a statement accepting the sanctions allocated, while also choosing not to appeal the decision from the league. Those statements follow the final report provided below.

 

Hockey Manitoba’s final report:

“This review is in relation to the Winnipeg Blues and Winnipeg Freeze organizations participating in a private training session outside of the Winnipeg Metro Region that occurred in Warren, Mb on November 9th, 2020.

Hockey Manitoba is a “Member Organization” under Hockey Canada and as such is the governing body of all amateur hockey within the Province of Manitoba which includes the MJHL.

Hockey Manitoba has been granted the autonomy to sanction on-ice hockey activity which is to permit any on-ice activity under its program.  This sanction does provide all the security and protections afforded by Hockey Canada to its registered members and participants.

On November 2nd, 2020 Hockey Manitoba publicized the directive below:

“For the safety of all members, both hockey teams and individuals (players, officials, and team staff) residing in the Provincial Response Level: Critical (Red) are ineligible to participate in hockey programming beginning Monday November 2, 2020 and will be revisited on Sunday November 15, 2020”

The above restrictions included restricting hockey teams and individuals (players, officials, and team staff) residing in the Winnipeg Metro Region Provincial Response Level: Critical (Red) from travelling outside of the region to participate in hockey programming.

The above Hockey Manitoba Directive was communicated to all member organizations within the MJHL and publicly.

With this information, the ownership and management group of the Winnipeg Blues and Winnipeg Freeze made an independent decision to operate privately outside of the Hockey Manitoba restrictions, without the necessary approval, by directing players and staff to travel outside of the Winnipeg Metro Region to participate in private unsanctioned hockey programming.

This decision has been recognized by the ownership and management group of the Winnipeg Blues and Winnipeg Freeze as wrong, that it was made in poor judgement in relation to the difficult situation within the province and that a regretful choice was made, albeit with good intentions during very difficult and unprecedented times, in which they have publicly acknowledged and apologized for while fully cooperating throughout the review process.

It should be noted in our review no evidence was found that the teams were in violation of the Public Health Orders as written at that time.  The group did seek guidance from Public Health prior to the practice being held on the necessary protocols required, specific for the Warren, MB. Facility, to enable them to participate safely in the training session.

However, the decision to direct players and staff to travel outside of the Winnipeg Metro Region (Provincial Response Level: Critical – Red) to participate in private hockey programming was in violation of the Hockey Manitoba Directive announced and effective November 2, 2020.

This decision in the end resulted in conduct taking place that was detrimental to the MJHL and Hockey Manitoba. The MJHL and Hockey Manitoba have the authority to implement Penalties as a result.

After review of the situation, involving the Winnipeg Blues and Winnipeg Freeze, the following penalties have been assessed:

  • $5,000 fine to be paid immediately and in full by the ownership group of the Winnipeg Blues/Winnipeg Freeze to the MJHL. Fine payment will go towards COVID-19 PPE relief for frontline workers across the province.
  • Each organization will forfeit their first round draft pick in the upcoming 2021 MJHL Draft.
  • Each organization will be required to complete a community initiative this season as approved by the MJHL and Hockey Manitoba.

As a rule, disclosing internal disciplinary matters of this nature is not made publicly as it would not be in the public interest to do so.  However, in this situation, it has become public and both organizations involved have apologized and have taken ownership for their decision publicly.

The above are severe penalties for an organization participating in a single, non-sanctioned private training session .

It is important to note that the above penalties are a result of the decision of the ownership and management group and not that of the players and/or staff of each organization.  Their participation does not merit any sanctions as a result of this unique, unprecedented and difficult set of circumstances.

It is also imperative that the Winnipeg Blues and Winnipeg Freeze organizations including players, staff, families and supporters should not be further stigmatized due to this decision.  These young athletes have seen how unforgiving individuals can be.

Moving forward, the apology has been accepted by the MJHL and Hockey Manitoba with the expectation that each organization has learned from this disappointing mistake and will continue to be positive role models, ambassadors and leaders within their communities, as has been shown repeatedly leading up to this situation.

The MJHL Board of Governors and Hockey Manitoba, albeit disappointed in this decision, continue to support the Winnipeg Blues and Winnipeg Freeze organizations as valued and positive members.  This situation has been very difficult for all those that have been involved and should be considered as a strong lesson learned by everyone.

This matter is now closed.”

 

A response from the Winnipeg Blues and Winnipeg Freeze:

“In response to the results of a review issued late this afternoon by Hockey Manitoba and the MJHL, The Winnipeg Blues and Winnipeg Freeze said they welcomed the opportunity to fully and openly participate in the process that was focused on the facts.

The organizations said they accept the findings of this review and will be waiving their rights to appeal.  They are grateful that the review acknowledged that they had contacted public health in advance of the practice to be sure they complied with COVID-19 restrictions, as written. This fact demonstrates that every effort was made to be transparent with the best intentions in mind for the players.  That said, the organizations continue to be sorry for their decision and have learned from this unfortunate incident.

The Winnipeg Blues and Winnipeg Freeze are deeply committed to hockey and sport in Manitoba and thank the hockey community for its support and confidence as we move forward in the safest, most responsible way possible.  Hockey Manitoba and the MJHL consider this matter closed.”

 

Carter Brooks - Associate Editor of Game On Magazine - is a news writer and sports columnist situated in Winnipeg, MB. On top of reading and writing, his favourite pastimes include camping, car-modification projects and coaching hockey. Carter can be reached at carterbrooks1994@gmail.com.

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