The Pacific Junior Hockey League has cancelled the rest of its 2020-21 season, following a Monday night conference call with its teams.
The Lower Mainland-based junior B circuit – which includes the White Rock Whalers, Surrey Knights and Delta Ice Hawks – had, like other junior leagues across the province, been in a holding pattern since the fall, with most waiting for a change in provincial health restrictions that would allow teams to play.
Since November, teams have only been allowed to practice. Prior to the shutdown, PJHL teams all played between two and eight regular-season games, all within cohort groups, though not every team played in their home arena; the Ridge Meadows Flames played in Abbotsford while the Whalers played home games in Richmond, as a result of restrictions at White Rock’s Centennial Arena.
“We’ve decided to shut it down for the year. We battled through some issues… but we just felt in fairness to the athletes and all the programs, we would show some leadership in the hockey community and shut it down, and then hopefully we can start our spring and summer programs at some point, and just focus on having a successful 2021-22 season,” Whalers owner Ronnie Paterson told Peace Arch News Tuesday morning.
“Everyone was in agreement” to cancel the season, he added.
Paterson said Feb. 6 served as something of a choke point in the league’s continued attempts to restart its regular season. Had provincial restrictions eased at that point “we could have had time to get a good season in.” When that date came and went, things got dicier, he said.
One team, the Langley Trappers, had already opted out of the season in advance of this week’s league-wide announcement, stating back in mid-February that the team would not return for the rest of the season.
Many reasons went into the decision, Paterson noted – everything from uncertainty over when restrictions may change, to ice availability.
“A lot of arenas are (taking the ice out) soon for lacrosse,” he said. “Everybody persevered and we all made so many sacrifices, but there are a lot of reasons why (the decision was made). Everyone did all that they could do but at the end of the day, the pandemic just didn’t go away.”
Paterson noted the Whalers will be OK financially despite the shutdown – “Our league is pay-to-play and our business model is one we are proud of, and is resilient,” he said – he does feel bad for the players, especially the 20-year-olds who will not be eligible to return next season.
“It’s devastating for them,” he said, noting that the Whalers hoped to “do something special” for those graduating players at some point in the future.
However, Paterson did admit that Monday night’s decision was “a relief” in that everyone involved in the league – from players to coaches to team staff and owners – can now move forward without constantly wondering if the season would restart.
Like their junior ‘B’ counterparts, the junior ‘A’ B.C. Hockey League – of which Paterson used to be a part, as co-owner of the Surrey Eagles – has pushed back the start of its season numerous times.
It has not made an announcement on whether or not it will continue play this season, as league officials continue discussions with the province and health authorities.