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MJHL Pulls the Plug on 2020-21 Season

Photos by Scott Stroh

MJHL Pulls the Plug on 2020-21 Season

Due to the ongoing public health restrictions, the Manitoba Junior Hockey League has made the decision to cancel the remainder of the 2020-21 regular season and and playoffs.

Following the most recent amendment to the public health order going into effect at midnight on Friday, the league announced what it is calling an “extremely difficult decision” shortly thereafter.

On the same day that the two Manitoba-based Western Hockey League teams announced their plans to resume action in Saskatchewan, Manitoba’s only Junior A league sadly was forced to announce its cancellation.

Fortunately, the season wasn’t a complete wash, as games did begin in October and November, leading up to the province’s various amendments to the PHO. However, with half the league unable to participate in games – based on their local health region – a clearer picture came into focus in late-October.

And then in early-November, Dr. Roussin announced a ‘brief’ halt to organized sport as the second wave of COVID-19 spread throughout the province. Unfortunately for Manitobans, that brief half is still ongoing over three months later.

Adding a 12th team and having the league split into three new divisions for 2020-21 were steps that the MJHL took to counteract the spread of the virus. Weekend games, reduced travel and hotel stays were additional precautions.

A grand total of 47 games were played, with 46 seeing completion, while 16 games were postponed before the MJHL officially announced a pause in its action league-wide. Leading the way in games played were the Waywayseecappo Wolverines (10), Neepawa Natives (10), Virden Oil Capitals (9) and Swan Valley Stampeders (9), while the remaining eight teams played anywhere from five to eight games.

Finishing the season in first place with a league-best eight wins and .944 win percentage for an 8-0-1 record were the Virden Oil Capitals. Although only playing six games, the Winnipeg Blues finished second, going 5-0-1 for a .917 win percentage. Steinbach finished third with a 5-1-1 record (.786 win percentage) in its seven contests. The newcomer Winnipeg Freeze failed to find a win in its five games, finishing dead last with an 0-4-1 record.

Individually, Virden’s Hunter Cloutier earned the league’s scoring title with six goals and 17 points in nine games, narrowly topping Wayway’s Mackenzie Belinski’s nine goals and 16 points. Belinski did lead the league in goals scored, however. Fellow Wolverine Colby Wolter finished atop the penalty minutes leaderboard with 60 minutes in just eight games played, averaging 7.5 minutes in penalties per game. Wolter did not record a point.

Steinbach’s Thomas Couture finished atop the charts in the two main goaltending statistics, with a .961 save percentage and a near-perfect 0.90 goals against average. The Pistons’ rookie had a 2-0-0 record with one shutout and just three goals allowed in his four games played. Virden’s Kyle Kozma led the way with six wins on the season, finishing the abbreviated season with a 6-0-1 record for the Oil Caps.

The full letter from MJHL Commissioner Kevin Saurette follows below:

 

After multiple discussions with Public Health, representatives of the Provincial Government, Facility Managers and Stakeholders, The MJHL Board of Governors have determined that the resumption and completion of the 2020-21 regular league / playoff season is not feasible due to current conditions.

It has become unrealistic to continue operating in a state of hope with so much uncertainty and no timeline provided. It is unfair to our athletes and staff, our community organizations who have been severely impacted financially and the communities / regions our organizations support and garner support from.

When hockey activities were paused as the entire Province moved to Code Red on November 12th, at no time did we not think or work tirelessly towards having the opportunity to resume our season safely. Return to Play scenarios were exhausted with Public Health to allow for a safe, responsible, balanced and financially feasible return to team activities.

This included the MJHL securing Hockey specific CCM Face Masks for on ice training along with demonstrated ability to safely manage our operations and extensive Return To Play Protocols from July to November 12, 2020.  MJHL teams completed 24 Prospect / Training Camps, 400+ On and Off-Ice Training Sessions and 60+ Games safely and responsibly during that time.

In the end, our advocacy efforts were not enough for Public Health to allow for a return to on ice team training activity, even in a non-contact, professionally managed, closed to public, distanced, 100% masked and extremely protected environment.

As a result, the Board of Governors see no reasonable prospect that future restrictions would be sufficiently altered, in time to allow for a feasible gradual return to Regular Season Play this season.

Moving forward, MJHL organizations will have the option to continue to provide Training / Development opportunities, exhibition games, etc. based on their individual circumstances and facility availability under current / updated Public Health Orders and Hockey Manitoba Directives.

Our athletes, staff, organizations, facilities and the entire MJHL community are to be commended for their efforts as they meticulously followed and executed the strict and extensive MJHL Protocols that were put in place to ensure the safety of everyone involved.  The MJHL Community were Return To Play leaders throughout the province and beyond and it is disappointing that we were not able to do so once again.  I would also like to recognize the entire Manitoba Minor Hockey Community who went above and beyond this season to ensure that the many benefits of organized hockey could be enjoyed in a safe and responsible environment.

The League and Member Organizations operational focus has now turned toward actively stabilizing our financial position, the continued advocacy for the safe and responsible return to on ice team training activities for all Players / Teams across the Province and planning for upcoming Team Training / Development Activities, Spring Camps, Prospect Camps, Events and Showcases.

The MJHL and each Member Organization will determine based on their own unique circumstances how they will proceed with their commitments to their stakeholders going forward.

I would like to personally thank all of our stakeholders for their commitment, patience and understanding during a very difficult and challenging season.

We are very grateful to our Communities, Billets, Sponsors, Supporters, Officials, Volunteers, League Staff, Team Staff and Players for their support and leadership in navigating through the very difficult challenges faced over this past year.

Although we are extremely saddened to make this announcement, we now look forward to the future as we prepare for bigger and better things for the 2021/22 season.

Kevin Saurette
Commissioner, Manitoba Junior Hockey League

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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