By Ryan King
Community News Reporter
PORT AUX BASQUES – In a statement released on Feb. 11, 2022, Hockey NL announced that both Female and Minor Programs would not have provincial tournaments to end this season. Instead, there would be a focus on organizing regional year-end events that adhere to public health guidelines. The organization acknowledged that the decision was not easy.
“Female and Minor Council Executive Committees would like to thank all members for their patience and support as we have worked together to navigate another hockey season impacted by COVID-19. We certainly understand the challenges faced by associations and commend you for the work you have done to ‘return to play’ while remaining dedicated to the safety of all participants.”
Brock Seaward, Channel-Port aux Basques Minor Hockey Association President, stated that the news was disappointing since the future had seemed promising.
“Cancellation of provincial tournaments really took the wind out of our sails. We felt as an organization, we’ve been following all the guidelines over the last two years to ensure that hockey continued, and now that all of our eligible players and our coaches have been vaccinated, we really thought we were headed in the right direction to finally be able to either travel to a Provincial Tournament for most players and to host a tournament for some players at the Bruce II for the first time since the 2018/2019 season. Even though at this time the CMO do not allow tournaments. We were hopeful that by the time Easter got here, enough restrictions would have been lifted to be able to accommodate these events.”
That announcement impacted minor hockey and female programs.
“Our Minor Hockey Program which include both boys and girls is cancelled. Our Female Provincial tournaments are cancelled as well, which normally takes place a couple of weeks prior to the Easter Tournaments. We have some players in our association that play in AAA leagues in the western region. Guidelines for some of those teams are a little different, but they are leagues separate from our minor hockey system.”
Seaward added that calling for the cancellation may not have been the right call.
“My personal thoughts on the decision is that Hockey NL should have tried a little harder, in the sense, of had a plan in place to host these tournaments if guidelines permitted, instead of cancelling so far in advance. I also understand that there are a lot of moving parts to consider when planning these types of things and that Hockey NL is continuously fielding calls and complaints and opinions, which probably helps make their decisions as well. In saying all of the above, I know it’s hard to please everyone. As an association, we will be submitting a letter of displeasure to our governing body regarding the decision on provincial tournaments.”
Playing hockey during the pandemic was not easy. There were logistical challenges over the last two seasons to have hockey games in Port aux Basques.
“The hardest part was coming up with the plan on how to make it all work. Originally we can thank Wanda Merrigan, formerly of the Bruce II, for her guidance and input and attention to detail and knowing the importance of recreation within our community for setting up the framework for the first lot of provincial guidelines within the arena. Since then it’s been a constant collaboration mainly between the Bruce II and its user groups. As the guidelines change we change what we have to and roll with the punches.”
The players kept their skills up despite the disappointing news.
“All things considered, as a group, I think we’re mainly happy we’re back on the ice and developing skills. We’re slowing getting back to games since before Christmas. It’s a really good program for the kids; good for their mental health as well as the obvious physical benefits for the participants.”
In an effort to reverse the decision to cancel the provincial tournaments, a petition was created on change.org that received 4,631 signatures of support.
Last Monday, Feb. 21 the petitioners announced a victory after being informed that provincial tournaments will not be canceled. That means the Easter tournament will go ahead, as well as the U18 trip to Labrador .
In a Feb. 23 announcement, Hockey NL stated they reversed the decision based on information from Public Health on Feb. 18 that on Mar. 14 the province would remove all restrictions from sport and recreation events.
“Based on this new information, minor and female councils decided to revisit the cancellation of the provincial tournaments with the minor hockey associations. On Sunday, February 20, 2022, the minor hockey associations voted to re-instate provincial tournaments. This decision was communicated to the minor hockey associations on Sunday, February 20, 2022.”
Additionally, the Minor Hockey council completed their final grading Feb. 25 to 27, with distribution to membership this. Similarly, the Female council will complete grading Mar. 11 to 13 and plans to distribute the results on Mar. 14.