May 26, 2020

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Province gives green light for local pro teams to resume practices

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Don't expect an eruption of activity at the homes of Winnipeg's four professional sports teams Friday just because provincial health officials are allowing for the resumption of training and practices inside those facilities.

Athletes, coaches and team staff from the Winnipeg Jets, Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Winnipeg Goldeyes and Valour FC have been given the green light to return to work, under strict health protocols owing to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

It's all part of Phase 2 of the province’s re-opening plan, announced Thursday by Premier Brian Pallister, and calls for pro teams to maintain physical distancing at places like Bell MTS Place, the practices, IG Field and Shaw Park, while ensuring enhanced cleaning of their facilities.

As well, no members of the public are permitted to enter while the athletes are in action.

"We will await further instructions on possible return to play protocols from the National Hockey League," Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / FREE PRESS FILES

"We will await further instructions on possible return to play protocols from the National Hockey League," Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.

But Jets head coach Paul Maurice won't be running line rushes at the downtown arena, and the boys of summer won't be shagging fly balls at the ball park.

For now, not much really changes.

"We are appreciative of the efforts of the provincial government and, really, all Manitobans as we do our best to combat COVID-19 and flatten the curve. We will take the information released (Thursday) as part of Phase 2 and communicate further with Dr. (Brent) Roussin and his staff, along with the province, to further understand it," Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.

"At the same time, while continuing to follow the health and safety standards that have already been laid out, we will await further instructions on possible return to play protocols from the National Hockey League."

The league has stated players are not allowed to gather for practices, even informally, until the suspension of the 2019-20 season is lifted. Exceptions have been made around the league for players that are undergoing rehab for an injury.

"We will, however, wait for the final confirmation from the CFL to allow teams to open their facilities." – Blue Bombers spokesman Darren Cameron

The Jets last played March 11, posting a 4-2 victory over the host Edmonton Oilers. The next day, the NHL suspended the season in response to the pandemic.

At the time, Winnipeg occupied the top wild-card spot in the Western Conference (37-28-6) and was gunning for a third consecutive playoff appearance. But the landscape has changed dramatically since then. Just Wednesday, the NHL and the players' union are working on a 24-team playoff setup based on conference standings, according to a report from Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman.

When the Jets western road swing was abruptly halted, most of the Jets went their separate ways. A few hunkered down in Winnipeg, while others are scattered across Canada, the U.S. and Europe. Patrik Laine, set to join local media members for a video conference Friday, is back home in Finland.

Travel restrictions, including a 14-day self-isolation period for people returning from out of province, remain in place in Manitoba.

Meanwhile, CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie hinted Wednesday the 2019 Grey Cup-champion Blue Bombers and the eight other squads could begin an abbreviated football season in September.

But the news from Pallister has little effect on the reigning champions.

"We are encouraged by today’s news that professional sports facilities are permitted to reopen in Manitoba as per the guidance and direction of our public health officials. We will, however, wait for the final confirmation from the CFL to allow teams to open their facilities," club spokesman Darren Cameron said in a statement.

"We don't have players in town right now, so allowing us to open training facilities and start practising doesn't really help us. Until they open the border for non–essential travel, we'll be status quo." – Goldeyes general manager Andrew Collier

He said the same applies to the FC Valour soccer team, which was set to begin preparations for its second season in the Canadian Premier League before the health crisis unfolded.

And the announcement changes almost nothing for the Goldeyes, although it's another sign the province has done a terrific job of flattening the curve, said Fish general manager Andrew Collier.

"It's great that Manitoba has done so well and it's encouraging to see things starting to open up again, but (for the Goldeyes) it's a lot bigger than just what Manitoba is doing. There's a lot of things that need to continue to go right, not just here but in the United States as well," he said.

The 2020 American Association season was scheduled to begin on May 19 but has been paused indefinitely. The Goldeyes are the lone American Association team located north of the border.

"We don't have players in town right now, so allowing us to open training facilities and start practising doesn't really help us. Until they open the border for non-essential travel, we'll be status quo," said Collier.

No one associated with the ball club has been stricken by COVID-19, he said.

"I have not heard of any of the players we've signed or our coaches or staff has been affected," said Collier. "Knock on wood, that's a very good thing."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

Read full biography

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