As the province is now into week two of code red restrictions, most people are doing what they can during this time to stay as safe as possible during these COVID times.
Of course, there are always some who will ignore common sense rules that will help people stay safe, especially as several have died in this community from COVID. The most notable exception would be those morons who descended on and demonstrated in Steinbach last weekend, the uninformed anti-mask, anti-vax, Trump-lovers who literally put other people in danger.
And then, although not to the same degree of recklessness, there are the Winnipeg Blues and the Winnipeg Freeze, the two Manitoba Junior Hockey League teams that skirted provincial and league guidelines as they practiced outside the Winnipeg region, which was in a red zone lockdown.
And unlike the anti-maskers, who don’t seem to exhibit any form of brain activity, the powers that be that run the Blues and the Freeze have the smarts to know better.
No doubt most of you are already familiar with the story that involved the Blues and the Freeze, who are both owned and operated by 50 Below Sports and Entertainment, which also owns the Rink Training Centre and the Western Hockey League’s Winnipeg Ice.
At any rate, the teams booked ice at the arena in Warren, which is just northwest of Winnipeg, under a different name, under the name Laker Academy, as it were, which they say conducted training sessions for the teams on that day. Additional workouts in Warren were subsequently cancelled.
For their part, Freeze and Blues officials, in a statement posted on their website, said they believed they were not contravening any rules but said, "moving forward we will be extra vigilant when seeking clarity and ensure decisions are made with Hockey Manitoba and the Manitoba Junior Hockey League."
"The bottom line is that in an unprecedented situation, with honest intentions, we made a bad choice. Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do to change what occurred on Nov. 9. However, moving forward, we can be a role model for our players and our community by owning our mistakes, correcting course immediately, and being the best possible example for going above and beyond for the greater good for as long as this pandemic lasts and beyond."
With that being said, the two Winnipeg teams still could, and perhaps should, receive some kind of sanctions and/or punitive measures by Hockey Manitoba and the MJHL.
For their part, the MJHL released a statement on Nov. 13 which really didn’t say anything on the topic other than to review some of the safety protocols in the league as they are on pause until at least Jan. 1.
The MJHL statement, in part, said "We have shown without question that the MJHL can offer hockey in a safe environment. Since early summer, we worked diligently to develop a phased approach to Return to Play Protocols, which have been incorporated by minor hockey and across Junior Hockey Leagues in Canada."
"We were the first Junior Hockey League in Canada to receive approvals across the various regulating authorities to resume the game of hockey. We are going to regroup, refocus, and reflect on what has worked well this season to date and areas for improvement."
Pistons players disperse for home
Meanwhile, Pistons head coach and GM Paul Dyck says the Pistons players have left Steinbach and dispersed to their home communities across the country.
The Pistons played their last game on Oct. 31 and had subsequent games against the Winkler scheduled for Nov. 6 & 7 that were postponed the day before. They had compiled a 5-1-0-1 record up to that point.
So it was a bit of a waiting game for the players as to when play might resume. When the province announced the code red shutdown until at least the middle of December and the MJHL then announced a pause until at least Jan. 1, Pistons players have now gone home for the next several weeks.
Dyck says although there remain unknowns such as when the code red restrictions may be lifted, as it stands now, the players would report back by Jan. 1 to resume practising. A possible date for the restart of the league has not yet been determined but in all likelihood wouldn’t be until the following weekend, Jan. 8 & 9, hypothetically.
Dyck says a couple of the players from the east would have to quarantine for two weeks when they return to Steinbach so it’s possible those players might return early.
"They’ll be able to have a longer break with their families and hopefully we can return to hockey after Christmas."
In the meantime, says Dyck, the players will continue to work out as best they can at home which likely would include limited opportunities to skate because of the restrictions.