Pandemic pressures lead N.S. junior hockey league to cancel remainder of season

·4 min read
Avery Warner of the Port Hawkesbury Strait Pirates carries the puck in a Nova Scotia Junior Hockey League game against the Pictou County Scotians. League governors have voted to end the season due to recent COVID-19 restrictions. (Robert Smith - image credit)
Avery Warner of the Port Hawkesbury Strait Pirates carries the puck in a Nova Scotia Junior Hockey League game against the Pictou County Scotians. League governors have voted to end the season due to recent COVID-19 restrictions. (Robert Smith - image credit)

New COVID-19 restrictions that were announced on Friday have forced the Nova Scotia Junior Hockey League to call an end to its season.

With games not allowed in the Halifax and East Hants areas, it means the Cole Harbour Colts, East Hants Penguins and Sackville Blazers could not play.

The rosters of three other league teams — the Liverpool Privateers, the Brookfield Elks and Valley Maple Leafs in Windsor — have players who live in the Halifax region.

When the restrictions were announced last week, Nova Scotians were asked to avoid all non-essential travel. The restrictions are in place until March 26 and could be extended beyond that date.

"A good portion of the league's teams couldn't continue until at least the end of March," said league president Heather Campbell. "If they did come back at the end of March, they still wouldn't be able to finish their season because they would still have all of their playoff games to complete."

Liam Kidney celebrates a recent goal with his Cape Breton Eagles teammates. The Eagles are the only team in the QMJHL's Maritimes division currently allowed to play games.
Liam Kidney celebrates a recent goal with his Cape Breton Eagles teammates. The Eagles are the only team in the QMJHL's Maritimes division currently allowed to play games.

The vote to end the season by the league's board of governors means that Pictou County, Antigonish, Eskasoni, Glace Bay and Port Hawkesbury, which make up their own division, will also shut down even though they are still allowed to play. Their teams are not impacted by the COVID-19 restrictions and all of their players live outside of the restricted zone.

"Our players dealt with it with a wide range of emotions from anger and frustration to tears," said Port Hawkesbury general manager Tim MacMillan. "We understand and we are disappointed, but when you think of your league as a whole, and if we all can't compete, then we really can't move forward."

Other leagues are also having major issues.

The Halifax Mooseheads are in the restricted zone and can't play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The Cape Breton Eagles could play, but have no available opposition.

The Eagles are the only team in the QMJHL's Maritimes division currently permitted to play. Charlottetown and all three New Brunswick teams — Acadie-Bathurst, Saint John and Moncton — are also currently shut down, although New Brunswick teams can resume games against each other next week.

"The players are really starting to get frustrated mentally more than anything else," said Cape Breton president Gerard Shaw. "It's also really frustrating trying to run the business side too with trying to keep the fans engaged and making changes to tickets and scheduling."

New COVID-19 restrictions mean hockey games cannot be played rinks like the Civic arena in Halifax until at least March 26.
New COVID-19 restrictions mean hockey games cannot be played rinks like the Civic arena in Halifax until at least March 26.

All six Nova Scotia teams in the Maritime Junior Hockey League are continuing to play, but league officials have had to postpone many games and juggle the schedule all season long.

With the local restrictions in Nova Scotia being enforced into late March, it will be getting close to the time when most arenas in the province take out their ice. But some leagues will be making schedule adjustments to try to extend their seasons.

The Nova Scotia U15 Hockey League is comprised of a dozen teams.

Six are based inside the restricted zone in the Halifax/East Hants area and are now on pause. The other six teams in the league from the rest of the province will continue to play exhibition games until a new modified league schedule can be drawn up for when the restrictions are lifted.

The new restrictions also mean some minor hockey associations are being split up.

The East Hants Sportsplex is located in Lantz, which is included in the restricted zone along with nearby Elmsdale and Enfield. That means 40 per cent of the players in the East Hants Minor Hockey Association who live outside the three communities are now not permitted to travel to practices at their home rink.

"It's caused quite an uproar for our players and our association, and we are working diligently with Hockey Nova Scotia and the province," said Rob Doucette, the president of the East Hants Minor Hockey Association.

"We just want to look at things from a common sense perspective because the kids have been practising together all season since September, they go to school together and ride the bus together."

MORE TOP STORIES