Monday was a monumental day for high school hockey.
At least 30 Winnipeg area teams, deprived of games for more than 18 months, were finally allowed to open tryouts for the 2021-22 season. Although a regular-season schedule has not been finalized, the Winnipeg High School Hockey League is planning a three-tiered divisional format to start Oct. 4.
Sturgeon Heights Huskies head coach Tyler Metcalfe was expecting 30-plus hopefuls on the ice at Keith Bodley Arena for an early evening workout. He sensed enthusiasm growing among his players since the start of the school year last week.
"They’re ecstatic," said Metcalfe.
"Everyone just wants to get back to normal. I think the athletes, (feel that way) even more so because every year is so valuable. You only get a certain amount of years of youth hockey and to lose one or two even — they don’t want to lose another. They really want to get back on the ice and just start playing."
WHSHL president Dana Gordon said she will be meeting with league reps shortly to commit to a regular-season schedule. The timing and staging of league games will determined by Hockey Manitoba guidelines, rink protocols and individual school division restrictions.
Last season, numerous delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic eventually forced the league’s executive to cancel the season.
"The season is happening, the league is running — period," said Gordon, adding that complications could still arise. "It’s good to play. It’s back to normal, or a version of normal. Hopefully we’ll be able to stay on that way but the delta variant’s going to, of course, dictate what’s going to happen and hopefully we’ll be able to have a full season. But again, in uncertain times you never actually can tell."
Metcalfe said his team’s only departure from Hockey Manitoba guidelines will be a stipulation by the St. James-Assiniboia School Division that there will be no spectators allowed in September. The decision will be revisited at the end of the month.
"I think it’s fair," said Metcalfe. "Let’s just get the show going here and not have any other issues that have nothing to do with the kids. And then, once things look like they’re running smoothly, then they might let the spectators come back in as per whatever the rink’s protocols are."
Collège Béliveau Barracudas head coach Scott Cawson will hold tryouts beginning Tuesday at Southdale Community Centre. Before any exhibition games are played, his team is awaiting a plan for extracurricular activities from the Louis Riel School Division. Those rules should be in place by Oct. 4.
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Nothing, it seems, can dampen the players’ enthusiasm at Beliveau.
"I hold a conditioning camp for kids in the south end and all three sessions were booked up for the week," said Cawson. "The kids are very excited and looking forward to getting back to play."
Metcalfe said starting on time will be beneficial for the high school game.
"High school hockey doesn’t have the luxury of going on pause for a month if club teams don’t go on pause because the makeup of your team is completely different," he said. "(The players) will go wherever they have the best chance (to play) and I think we have just as good a chance as any club team of having the season at this point."
Mike Sawatzky Reporter
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
The 2021-22 Winnipeg High School Hockey League season is expected to start Oct. 4. Here’s a list of the schools expected to participate:
Confirmed (30): St. John’s-Ravenscourt, Linden Christian, West Kildonan, Westwood, Steinbach, Selkirk, Vincent Massey, Oak Park, Powerview, Springfield, Lorette, Dakota, Garden City, St. Paul’s (two teams), Stonewall, Glenlawn, Shaftesbury, Murdoch MacKay, Miles Macdonell, Louis Riel, River East, Léo-Rémillard, Collège Gabrielle-Roy (Île-des-Chênes), John Taylor, Beliveau, J.H. Bruns, Sturgeon Heights, Windsor Park, Collège Jeanne-Sauvé.
Unconfirmed (7): Kildonan East, Transcona, Sanford, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Kelvin, Pinawa, Fort Richmond.