Written by Okanagan Hockey Group
Courage can be defined in many ways when it comes to the game of hockey. Some would suggest it takes a brave and strong person to go into the corners, block a booming slap shot, or take the punishment associated with establishing a net-front presence. There is also the courage to come back from injury, the courage to speak up in the dressing when times are tough, or the courage to sound the alarm when something isn’t quite right in the sport. This past week it took a lot of courage to shut down the game because of COVID-19. Yes, it was definitely a smart thing to do for everyone’s health and safety but that doesn’t mean it was an easy decision. First, the NHL shut its doors indefinitely, then junior hockey followed suit and the trickle-down effect is filtering its way to minor hockey and spring programs. While the immediate future is a little unclear, this incredible sport will return at some point and the game of hockey will help us all feel good again. The passion, the pride and the public support for your favourite team, player, son or daughter is an incredibly powerful force that drives hockey fans, hockey dads and hockey moms worldwide. It’s a tribal sensation and feeling that crosses borders and boundaries, a universal language that can be shared or spoken between different groups of people no matter what their native tongue. A loud roar of the crowd, the content smile of a young child, and a bond between young and old who dare to brave the cold of an old barn, new arena or frozen pond. Hockey helps us escape our day to day lives and despite the fact that the ability to get lost in between the whistles has been taken away temporarily, we will all be back cheering, laughing and crying in the near future. With all that has gone on in the world this past week, it would be trivial to focus in on stats, streaks or stories for this blog. Instead, I will outline the reasons why the pause button has been hit for hockey and some of the safety measures being taken to help keep the community safe.
Less than four weeks before the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the National Hockey League made the landmark decision to pause its season. Using “pause” is an interesting choice of words because it suggests that the game will be back at some point. The NHL’s decision came almost 16 hours after the NBA “suspended” its season for a minimum of 30 days. Commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners toyed with the idea of continuing to play in front of empty arenas, but ultimately decided they didn’t want to rob the fans of experiencing the stretch drive live and in person if possible. "The NHL has been attempting to follow the mandates of health experts and local authorities while preparing for any possible developments without taking premature or unnecessary measures," Bettman said in a statement following a conference call with the board of governors. "However, following news that an NBA player has tested positive for coronavirus — and given that our leagues share so many facilities and locker-rooms and it now seems likely that some member of the NHL community would test positive at some point — it is no longer appropriate to try to continue to play games at this time. We will continue to monitor all the appropriate medical advice, and we will encourage our players and other members of the NHL community to take all reasonable precautions — including by self-quarantine, where appropriate. Our goal is to resume play as soon as it is appropriate and prudent so that we will be able to complete the season and award the Stanley Cup. Until then, we thank NHL fans for your patience and hope you stay healthy.”
For their part, the NHL Players Association not surprisingly supported the league's call in shutting things down for now, “The decision to temporarily suspend play due to the COVID-19 pandemic is an appropriate course of action at this time," the union said in a statement. "The NHLPA will continue to closely monitor this very dynamic situation and remain in daily discussions with the league, our medical consultants, and our players regarding all aspects of this matter. The players are looking forward to the opportunity to resume play in front of hockey fans everywhere." For the record, if the NHL does cancel the season and playoffs, it would mark the third time since 1893 the Stanley Cup hasn’t been awarded. The Spanish flu forced the cancellation of the 1919 Cup final, while the entire 2004-05 campaign was lost to a lockout. Another work stoppage shortened the 2012-13 season to 48 games, plus the playoffs. That said, there are plans in place to continue to play into the summer and use the current playoff format. If that isn’t possible, and the season/Cup chase has to be shortened there is still some hope that even protracted playoffs can be salvaged. What that looks like is still open to debate, and the best-case scenario would be a short interruption right now that will allow the games to continue soon.
Not long after the NHL decided to pause, the Canadian Hockey League and American Hockey League announced similar plans. The AHL is closely tied to the NHL so stopping play was a pretty easy decision. Pro players worldwide are being shut down, a tough pill to swallow when the paycheques stop coming. Unlike the top league in the world, these guys don’t make a lot of money so losing any type of revenue is extremely difficult. Junior hockey is a different story when it comes to making a living, although the players themselves are just as invested in their careers and futures. In a brief statement released by the CHL president Dan MacKenzie, the CHL said it takes the health and safety of its players, fans, volunteers, staff and the general public very seriously, "Following consultation with medical professionals and meetings today among the CHL executive council, and regional league board of governors, the CHL announces that the balance of the 2019-20 season and all hockey activity shall be paused immediately until further notice," There was no indication how this suspension of play would affect the Memorial Cup, scheduled for Kelowna at the end of May. The host Rockets responded with its own statement, "The Kelowna Rockets are fully supportive of the decision made today collectively by the Canadian Hockey League and Western Hockey League to suspend play this season until further notice. The health and safety of our players, staff, guests, and community, is of vital importance. We will continue to monitor information and developments provided by the Interior Health Authority, as well as other health authorities across our country. Our organization will have more information for season ticket holders and ticket buyers in the near future. We hope to provide an update next week. We appreciate your understanding during these unprecedented events." Covid-19 has also impacted other levels of junior hockey. Junior A, Junior B, and Junior C leagues are all stopping play immediately. Like everyone who supports the game at this level, I sincerely hope the season will resume when it is safe to do so. If it doesn’t happen, you have to feel really bad for those players in their final year of junior. Unlike the pros, these 20-year-old’s won’t be able to return to their teams next year after aging out.
At lower levels, Hockey Canada announced that it's canceling all activities sanctioned, including national championships, by the sport's governing. "Without question, this is an unprecedented period of difficulty for the sports world," Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney and president/COO Scott Smith said in a joint statement. "The health and safety of all participants in sport, including players, coaches, staff, officials, fans, family, volunteers and the general public, is of the utmost importance to Hockey Canada.
After much consultation with the Hockey Canada membership, our chief medical officer and public health officials, the Hockey Canada Board of Directors has made the decision to cancel all Hockey Canada-sanctioned activities, including our national championships, until further notice, effective Friday, March 13, 2020. We recognize the tremendous effort that has been put forth all year by individuals across the country as they participate in Canada's game. Although it is difficult to process the hockey season ending abruptly, we feel this is the best course of action in order to do our part in keeping our country safe." According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, the risk to the general population is low and most people diagnosed with COVID-19 experience mild to moderate symptoms Updates on COVID‐19 can be found at https://www.canada.ca/en/public‐health/services/diseases/2019‐novel‐coronavirusinfection.html. I would ask every one of you to be safe and stay informed about this constantly changing virus. These are not easy times for anyone and please remember the lessons learned from our great game in regards to leadership, learning and dealing with adversity.
I can confidently say the Okanagan Hockey Academy had an impact on me as a hockey player but more importantly as a person. OHA taught me to bring my best self in all aspects of life including as a student, player and community member. I learned many life skills during my time at OHA that I will take with me much longer than my playing career and that is the greatest gift the staff, coaches, billets and community gave to me. I strongly believe I am a more well-rounded individual because of my time at OHA. I hope any young hockey player with drive, determination and a passion to become a better player and person is able to have the chance to attend somewhere so amazing. For me OHA gave me the best balance of academics, athletics, family and social life. I am extremely grateful for my time at Okanagan Hockey Academy.