Just like that, the Nova Scotia Junior Hockey League (NSJHL) is back.
The league’s board of governors decided March 5 to resume play after the provincial government loosened the COVID-19 pandemic rules, just one week after the board tightened things up by not allowing teams or players from the Halifax Region Municipality to compete for four weeks.
The provincial announcement basically shut down the NSJHL because of its close ties to the HRM.
“We’re just happy that we’re back rolling,” said Privateers President Bruce Inglis, who thought the announcement to shut things down was a little premature. “We wanted to see how things played out before making announcements like that. But it is what it is, and we are crossing our fingers hoping we can get through.”
The league will now go straight into the playoffs, despite some teams only playing 10 to 15 games in a planned 16-game season.
The Privateers and the Sackville Blazers have a bye to the second round in the Fred Fox division playoffs, based on their regular-season standings — tied for first with 18 points — and await the winners of a best-of-three qualification rounds. Cole Harbour will take on the Valley, while East Hants play Brookfield.
The first round must be completed by March 14. The second and subsequent rounds will be played in a best-of-seven format.
The Liverpool team’s promising season was threatened to have been cut short by the NSJHL decision announced February 26, which it said was due to the uncertainty of future decisions by the provincial government.
League President Heather Campbell admitted at the time that shutting down the league was a tough call to make for the league’s board of governors.
“It was a very hard decision because you have over-agers, and it is their last year of junior. Everybody wanted to see the season completed with a provincial champion at the end, because we didn’t have one last year,” she said.
“But it was better for the league to make a decision than to wait a month to see what was going to happen. We’re hoping and praying we will have a full and complete season next year with no unfortunate interruptions.”
The league’s 2019-20 season was also halted early due to the pandemic. Only one round of playoffs was completed.
The regular season in the NSJHL typically consists of 32 games, but this year it was cut to 20, then 16 in hopes of getting a regular season and playoffs completed. The Privateers just played 11 games.
The 2020-21 season began with the first games being played October 30. It was then paused November 25 and play did not re-start until January 25.
Inglis had said he felt bad for the overage players who would not be eligible to play next year. This season Captain Cam Scott, Connor Barnhill and Nolan MacDonald graduate from the program.
Playing in his fourth season with the Privateers, Barnhill would have been ending his junior career as the franchise’s leading scorer. He has scored 88 regular-season goals and had 104 assists. In three rounds of playoffs, he scored eight times and recorded seven assists.
Barnhill surpassed former teammate and former franchise leader, Logan MacLellan with two points in the first game of the 2020-21 season.
“It’s a real downer. It’s tougher this year knowing we had the group to go all the way,” said Barnhill, following the February 26 announcement. “Getting back after Christmas, looking at the team, we knew we had a shot to go very deep in the playoffs.”
He and the Privateers will now get that chance.
Kevin McBain, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin