Add the president of the Manitoba U18 AAA Hockey League to a growing list of people vilifying the ownership group of two Manitoba Junior Hockey League teams that hatched a covert plan to skirt COVID-19 restrictions by arranging practices outside of Winnipeg.

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Add the president of the Manitoba U18 AAA Hockey League to a growing list of people vilifying the ownership group of two Manitoba Junior Hockey League teams that hatched a covert plan to skirt COVID-19 restrictions by arranging practices outside of Winnipeg.

The Winnipeg Blues and expansion Winnipeg Freeze — both owned by 50 Below Sports and Entertainment (which also owns the Western Hockey League's Winnipeg Ice) — have been booking ice in Warren under a different team name.

The MJHL and Hockey Manitoba continue to investigate.

But longtime local hockey administrator Don McIntosh maintains the U18 AAA league he oversees has been operating by the book since a return to play in October for 12 of the league's 13 squads, and hasn't had a positive case of coronavirus among 260 players and approximately 65 coaches and trainers.

Hockey administrator Don McIntosh believes the incident will paint all minor hockey leagues in the province with the same brush. (Ken Gigliotti / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Hockey administrator Don McIntosh believes the incident will paint all minor hockey leagues in the province with the same brush. (Ken Gigliotti / Winnipeg Free Press files)

The regular season is currently postponed owing to provincewide restrictions.

McIntosh is upset the MJHL teams' shenanigans have slapped a black mark on the entire minor hockey community.

"All of us will be painted with the same brush. That's the real frustration," said McIntosh, in his fifth season as head of the U18 AAA. "Our league has busted our butts on mitigating risk. This is important stuff."

He said Hockey Manitoba needs to take strong action, suggesting suspensions from league play should be on the table.

"I used to sit on the board of Hockey Manitoba and dealt with numerous issues. If you use an ineligible player or forge a game sheet, you can get substantive fines for that. To me, this is beyond that," said McIntosh.

The Blues and Freeze appear to have practised Monday at the South Interlake Rec Centre's Sunova Arena under the name Laker Academy, a Winnipeg-based organization that runs youth hockey camps.

About a week ago, the Sunova Arena's online calendar showed the Blues booked from 2 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday this week, and the Freeze had the 3:30 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. time slots booked on the same dates. The name for all of those bookings was changed to Laker Academy, but live footage from Monday afternoon clearly shows the Blues and Freeze using the rink.

A screenshot from live footage taken on Monday afternoon on LiveBarn.com — a broadcast service that shows amateur sports venues — shows the Blues on the ice under the name Laker Academy.

"They caught them live. There it is for all to see. This thing is way, way out of line," said McIntosh.

He said the carelessness of the ownership group has put the future of all Manitoba minor hockey in jeopardy.

A screenshot from live footage shows teams on the ice under the name Laker Academy. (Supplied)

SUPPLIED

A screenshot from live footage shows teams on the ice under the name Laker Academy. (Supplied)

"Does public health continue to allow Hockey Manitoba to allow us to return to play at some point or do they take that away from us because of what's happened in the MJHL," he said. "It seems to me that a strong message needs to be sent relative to this. Hopefully, Hockey Manitoba means business."

MJHL commissioner Kevin Saurette wouldn't comment Thursday on the Blues/Freeze situation.

Executive director Peter Woods of Hockey Manitoba, the governing body for amateur hockey in the province, said he was reviewing the situation and had nothing more to report.

Early in the fall, teams and their home facilities had to complete documents for Hockey Manitoba guaranteeing all return-to-play protocols would be followed to the letter before the green light was given to proceed.

McIntosh said the dozen U18 AAA teams have stayed true to their obligations "because it's the right thing to do in these uncertain times."

One player with the Norman North Stars was identified in contract tracing, so a game was postponed and the player quarantined until his test came back negative. In the only other instance of concern, two players with the Central Plains Capitals exhibited symptoms and a game was postponed. Both teens tested negative.

"That's the kind of action we've been taking," McIntosh said. "We've been on top of it from the start. There's communication whenever issues came up because our teams want some guidance."

The regular season began Oct. 16. Some teams played as few as two games, while others got in eight before the pause button was hit Thursday.

League games for three Winnipeg-based teams — Thrashers, Bruins and Wild — were shelved Nov. 2 when the city and surrounding area moved to code red, or critical, on the province's pandemic response system. One week later, Manitoba's Southern Health region went the same route, shutting down play for the Pembina Valley Hawks, Interlake Lightning, Eastman Selects and Capitals. The remaining squads, Brandon Wheat Kings, Southwest Cougars, Yellowhead Chiefs, Parkland Rangers and North Stars were sidelined as of Thursday.

The Kenora Thistles had yet to play this season due to travel restrictions in their region.

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).

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