Cancelled Humboldt Broncos season leaves questions of what could have been

HUMBOLDT — With the announced cancellation of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League season, the Humboldt Broncos and their fans are left wondering what could have been.

Team captain Doug Scott said he believed the Broncos – loaded with talented veterans from a season ago and bolstered by skilled newcomers – had the potential to compete for a league championship. Before the SJHL season was paused last November due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the squad displayed the makings of a potential juggernaut. Humboldt had a league-best 5-1-0-0 record and led the SJHL in wins, standings points (10 in six games), goals for (28), and goal differential (nine). Broncos forward Logan Kurki and Melville’s Reece Newkirk were tied for the league lead with 12 points in six games. Five other Broncos were in the top 20 in SJHL scoring.

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“It would be great to see the product we basically put together here for the last two and a half seasons come to fruition so that our fans could see them play but unfortunately we cannot control the government’s decisions on what they feel is the best for the health of the players and other people … We had high hopes for the club,” Humboldt head coach Scott Barney said. “Obviously, we’ll be losing a good chunk of the players for next season. We’ve been out doing some recruiting and are hoping to fill the spots of the players who are graduating.”

On March 22, the SJHL announced the cancellation of the rest of the 2020-21 season. The league had been investigating operating in a “bubble” in Weyburn. The league’s statement read, “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.” Last season the SJHL playoffs were halted by the pandemic.

“I would have loved to see it finish and I feel for the players on our team and all the other players in that league that weren’t able to finish their seasons, especially the players who are graduating. The 20-year-olds having last season … cancelled and having this season cancelled is very tough for them mentally, I believe,” Barney said.

Broncos president Lee Dufort said he was disappointed in the cancellation for a few different reasons.

“A lot of people put a lot of effort into the proposal to the government trying to make it work and trying to make the proposal equivalent to what the (Western Hockey League) has... They are playing and we are not. I really thought it was a go. The numbers rising in the last few days didn't help,” Dufort said.

He also expressed concern for the players – saying it “was a tough stretch for them mentally, wondering if they would get to play this year and trying to stay in game shape while things played out.” Dufort and Barney both said they felt bad for the team’s eight 20-year-olds whose junior careers have come to an end.

“On behalf of the organization and the coaching staff, we thank our players for the sacrifices they have made on and off the ice and wish them the best going forward either in university or continuing to play hockey at the next level,” Barney said.

Scott, a defenceman in his second season with the team, ages out as do 2000-born netminders Dean McNabb and Tanner Marshall, who joined the squad for this season. Graduating up front are third-year players Reid Arnold and Luke Spadafora, who spent parts of a trio of seasons in Humboldt, as well as newcomers Jarrett Penner, Austen Flaman and Chase Nameth. Arnold and Spadafora were both members of the first Broncos team to take the ice after the devastating April 6, 2018 bus crash that claimed 16 lives.

“What I will remember most about my time in Humboldt and with the Broncos is all the amazing people I met in the city and throughout the organization,” said Arnold, who billeted with Trevor and Nancy Baert. “Everyone was very supportive through our ups and downs in the past three years. Another thing I’ll remember most about Humboldt is my billets. They are great people and will have a relationship with them for a long time to come.”

Dufort stated that Barney and his staff put a “great team” together for this season. He said he felt bad for them, the players, and the fans.

“Really what is hockey without the fans? It would have been great to have playoff excitement to relieve some COVID stress and just forget about the pandemic,” said Dufort, who noted that “there is nothing we can do now other than look to the future and know it will return to a new normal with better hand sanitizing in the future. The Broncos will be back.”

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