October 19, 2020

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Manitoba Junior Hockey League plans to drop puck in October

'It's going to take an immense buy-in from from everyone involved,' league commissioner says

The MJHL plans to be among the first in the hockey world to restart after Wednesday's announcement that Manitoba's health authority has granted the league approval to begin its regular season Oct. 9.

The league cancelled the remainder of the 2019-20 playoffs on March 13 owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We're one of the first leagues that has come up with an actual start date and we're going to have lots of eyes on us," Virden Oil Capitals general manager and head coach Tyson Ramsey said Thursday.

"And we want to make sure that we're doing everything that we can to take away the risk of transmission and we feel like the league has done a really good job with those steps."

Tyson Ramsey, general manager and head coach of the Virden Oil Capitals: "We're going to have lots of eyes on us."

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Tyson Ramsey, general manager and head coach of the Virden Oil Capitals: "We're going to have lots of eyes on us."

Some of those guidelines include:

● Players, staff and officials will be required to wear face masks when entering and exiting arenas for MJHL-sanctioned activities.

● Players and staff will be required to wear face masks while travelling to and from games on buses and while entering and exiting restaurants and hotels.

● Spectators will be strongly encouraged to wear face masks while attending MJHL games. They must also observe social-distancing requirements.

● Arenas will be restricted to 50 per cent of spectator capacity.

● The league's regular-season schedule will reflect the reality of living in a pandemic world. Day trips will be the norm and hotel and restaurant use will be limited as much as possible. In addition, schedule-makers are hoping to limit teams to one opponent per week, thereby reducing potential exposure and spread of the virus between multiple teams.

MJHL commissioner Kevin Saurette.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

MJHL commissioner Kevin Saurette.

MJHL commissioner Kevin Saurette is confident the plan will be successful.

"If anything is delayed it would be totally out of our hands and that would be a public health decision," he said, adding the league's protocols have been thoroughly vetted by health officials.

"But at the end of the day we're, you know, we're still at the mercy of the virus."

Earlier this summer, the MJHL had to push back a planned a Sept. 8 start for training camps and a Sept. 25 return to competition.

"But at the end of the day we're, you know, we're still at the mercy of the virus." — MJHL commissioner Kevin Saurette

Now, training camps are slated to begin on Sept. 18, with a maximum of 34 players per team. Clubs won't play more than three exhibition games, all of which will be played against Manitoba opponents.

The matter of allowing fans in the stands could be a complex matter and Saurette said each team will manage its own approach.

Officials in Virden are currently plotting how to meet the health guidelines for games to be played at Tundra Oil & Gas Place. The hope is a crowd of between 700-800 fans, normal for a non-pandemic year, can be accommodated.

Earlier this summer, the MJHL had to push back a planned a Sept. 8 start for training camps.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Earlier this summer, the MJHL had to push back a planned a Sept. 8 start for training camps.

"We have 1,200 seats and we allow for 300 standing room," said Ramsey. "So, 1,500 is kind of a number that we're going off and 50 per cent capacity is 750. And then we'll work at how to social-distance those people, so that number might go down."

Wayway Wolverines GM and head coach Taylor Harnett said similar discussions are going on at the Waywayseecappo Community Complex, which has a capacity, including standing room, of approximately 1,000. Health protocols will permit family members who live in the same house to sit together in the arena, a factor that will affect the number of fans allowed in the door.

Waywayseecappo Wolverines GM and head coach Taylor Harnett.

PERRY BERGSON/THE BRANDON SUN FILES

Waywayseecappo Wolverines GM and head coach Taylor Harnett.

"Those numbers can be different," said Harnett. "Our building itself at 50 per cent capacity holds a certain number of people but once we put all our markings in place and we look at how we social-distance, the numbers are a little bit different. So, we're still going through that and we'll have a better idea once we dig a little bit deeper."

Saurette, who took over from outgoing commissioner Kim Davis July 1, expects close scrutiny from public health authorities.

"I know they're confident in the plan that we've put in place and and it'll be up to the teams to execute that plan, which will have various measures in place to make sure that teams are accountable. I know the (league) office is accountable and Hockey Manitoba is, so we're all working on this together."

For Saurette, the euphoria of announcing a restart date was tempered by the enormous scale of the task at hand.

"It's going to take an immense buy-in from from everyone involved in the MJHL community to do their part like provincial health says and do the necessary safety precautions," he said.

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Sports Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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