The Keystone Junior Hockey League has officially announced that its 2020-21 season will see its already delayed start date pushed back further yet. This decision comes as a response to the current situation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and the initialization of the ‘Code Red’ within the province of Manitoba.
“The KJHL has adjusted the projected start date of the season to January 1, 2021,” the league wrote in a statement this past week. “Public health protocols will determine the actual start date and we will update the public by no later than December 15, 2020. Thank you all for your patience as we cannot wait to start the season!”
This decision – made by league president Ed Albert and each of the league’s five member team governors – was done so for the health and safety of its players, while also following the provincial health orders in place. With 2,708 new cases of COVID-19 and 46 new deaths within the province this past week, Manitoba is on pace to nearly hit 20,000 total cases by the end of the month. There are over 7,861 active cases within the province, while Manitoba hit a new test positivity high this past week, with positive cases coming back at roughly 14 percent.
Back on October 27, the Keystone Junior Hockey League announced that it would be pushing its proposed start date for the 2020-21 season back to December. Following that, the league further announced the decision to further delay the season to January. This choice comes on the heels of the deadliest week in Manitoba since the arrival of the novel coronavirus in the province back in early-March. Since the beginning of November, there have been 138 COVID-related deaths within the province.
“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 originally told Game On back on October 27. “We will monitor case counts and the impact on the health care system over the course of the next month before re-evaluating.”
Currently, all of Manitoba is under ‘Code Red’, to which social gatherings are forbidden, mask use is mandatory and the general public has been advised to stay home unless it’s absolutely necessary. Social contacts are limited to those within one household only. These regulations are in effect for each of the communities of the five KJHL teams.
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 an already delayed start date of early November, the league surveyed the playing field and opted to push back the date to Saturday, December 5, and determined that taking a pause is the best immediate course of action. No set to begin on January 1, 2021, the league will provide further information on this by December 15.
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 that point – were still permitted, but with restricted travel within many of the league’s communities, paired with the recent shutdown of all sports/recreation centres, this possibility is no longer an option.
Hockey Manitoba has since released its fourth 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.