For the second year in a row the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League season will not be completed.
This time, though, the season barely was able to get off the ground at all. After a suspension of play that has lasted since late November, the SJHL confirmed Tuesday morning that the Saskatchewan government has not allowed them to return to play, putting an end to the season for the 12 SJHL clubs including the Battlefords North Stars.
The statement from the SJHL in full is as follows, as posted on the league’s website:
“The Saskatchewan Jr Hockey League announces that the 2020-2021 season will not have an ending.
“A decision by Saskatchewan Government and Health has been made on the submissions that have been before them, unfortunately the SJHL will not be allowed to return to play.
“In part the current conditions of Covid 19 in the Province of Saskatchewan do not appear to allow a return to play, now or in the next few weeks.
“The SJHL will now turn its focus on returning to play in September of 2021 and having a complete season ending with the crowning of the Saskatchewan Jr Hockey League Champion.”
This marks two years in a row that the Canalta Cup will not be presented to a champion. Last year, during the first round of the Canalta Cup playoffs, the SJHL season was cancelled on March 13 due to the rapidly-emerging COVID-19 pandemic.
The SJHL did manage to get a return-to-play plan approved that allowed upwards of 150 fans in the stands as well as strict public health protocols. They managed to start the season last November, but it lasted only a few games.
A spike in COVID-19 cases throughout the province prompted new public health orders effective Nov. 27, which suspended play. The North Stars were only able to get three regular season games in before play was suspended and did not play a single regular season game at home.
The SJHL had hoped for a return to play and had formed a committee to explore possibilities. Initially, there were inquiries about resuming the schedule in league rinks. It is known that the North Stars had approached city council in North Battleford about hosting league games at the Civic Centre from late March to late May.
While the city was supportive, those plans did not proceed. As of late, the league’s focus had shifted to the possibility of hosting a bubble “hub” in Weyburn where teams would play a shortened schedule of 15-18 games.
Reports are that a proposal on the hub was submitted to government officials last week, and that it was turned down on Monday night. The final decision to cancel the season was announced officially on Tuesday morning.
The cancellation of the SJHL season comes in spite of other hockey leagues getting the go-ahead to play. The province had approved the seven-team Western Hockey League hub in Regina, which is still under way. As well, other Junior A leagues including the Alberta Junior Hockey League and British Columbia Hockey League saw their return-to-play plans approved by those provinces. The Manitoba Junior Hockey League, however, did cancel its season.