EAST CENTRAL — With the start date of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League 2020-21 season in question due to COVID-19, the Humboldt, Melfort and Nipawin are getting ready for whatever the future may hold.
SJHL President Bill Chow said the season has a potential start date of Oct. 9 with nothing else approved by the Saskatchewan Health Authority. It is too early to tell what the season will look like, he said.
Whether the season goes ahead or not, both communities will be deeply impacted by how the season goes forward.
Michael Ulriksen, Humboldt’s recreation director, said this year is going to look different for the Elgar Petersen Arena for the Humboldt Broncos and other user groups like Humboldt Minor Hockey and Skate Humboldt. Staff are still looking at how public health restrictions are going to impact these user groups but they are still excited to eventually have the arena up and running.
With the upcoming Humboldt Broncos season, Ulriksen said they will be working with the SJHL on start dates and how to make the season accessible within the EPA. A lot of that depends on public health restrictions, he said.
“We're requiring all of our users to comply with whatever the province’s regulations are. At this point, that doesn't mean 500 people in the stands.”
The Broncos will be missed by the city if they do not return to the barn for their new season, Ulriksen said, and everyday operations at the Uniplex would be drastically different.
“The Broncos obviously bring a lot of energy to our facility and to our community. Not having them on the ice and not participating is definitely going to be felt in the community from that perspective. Financially, who know what's going to happen between now and then.”
Brent Lutz, Melfort’s community relations director, said the Northern Lights Palace Arena opened on Aug. 17 and already has three weeks of reservations made by local user groups.
If the Melfort Mustangs were not to return to the barn, this would mean new challenges for the City of Melfort, Lutz said.
“Without them using the facility, we will be seeking to try and find some alternative users so we can justify keeping the facility operational.”
Rennie Harper, Nipawin’s mayor cannot imagine her community and others like it without SJHL hockey and having some semblance of a 2020-21 season will bring some sense of normalcy back to the community, including the young fans.
While there will obviously be financial implications for the season, Harper said the people of Nipawin will be deeply impacted if hockey isn’t in their community.
“Hockey and competition between Melfort, Humboldt, Nipawin is a way of life and I'm not sure exactly how the community will work without that for six months of the year.”