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All nine teams returning
Things looked doubtful for a while, but there will be junior hockey played in the east coast of the province this season.
Following a meeting with team reps Monday night, St. John’s Junior Hockey League president Mark Noseworthy confirmed Tuesday the league will hit the ice this season with all nine teams.
The proposed startup date is Feb. 5.
Teams won’t be playing their usual 28 games because of the late start.
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“We’re trying to get in as many games as we can before the rinks close,” Noseworthy said. “I think the best we could hope for is a double round-robin, which is 16 games.
“We’re not sure about playoffs yet. That will depend on how much time we have.”
In November, the league submitted a Return to Play plan, as required by most – if not all – sports leagues in this pandemic time. Plans were sent to Sport Newfoundland and Labrador and the provincial government.
In a letter to the junior league, Michelle Healey of the provincial government’s sport and recreation division wrote, “I am connecting back as I have heard back from Public Health (PH) officials and PH notes that given the current situation, both in our province and in the Atlantic region more generally, PH cannot endorse any additional plans at this time for full team play, where players would be unable to physically distance from each other while seated on the bench. If conditions improve over the coming weeks, PH may be able to reconsider this proposed plan. For now, they would advise against full team play, where physical distancing cannot be achieved on the bench.”
It was suggested to the junior league it might consider playing two-line hockey (11 skaters and two goalies), but the league took a pass on that.
Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador’s Junior Council, which governs junior hockey in the province, submitted a second plan on behalf of the league in January, and it was approved by Sport NL, government and Public Health.
That plan followed the same outline as one previously submitted by the five-team Newfoundland and Labrador Under-18 Major Hockey League.
The U18 circuit received approval to start its 2020-21 season last fall.
Masks are required in the dressing room, on the players benches and in the penalty boxes. Hockey Canada COVID-19 rules which, for example, do not permit after-the-whistle scrums and goal celebrations, will be strictly enforced.
“We reviewed the U18 proposal and drew up our own proposal,” Noseworthy said.
“There are no modified rules. It’s ‘regular’ hockey, with full rosters.”
“We’re not sure about playoffs yet. That will depend on how much time we have.” — Mark Noseworthy
The junior hockey president said the arenas in which the teams play their home games are on board with the league’s return.
“There’s one team that doesn’t have confirmation from its home rink, but we’re hopeful that team will get in there.”
Noseworthy said the rinks, most of which are run by municipalities such as Mount Pearl, Paradise and Conception Bay South, have different rules. Most arenas do not permit use of showers. Entry is not permitted until 10 minutes prior to the game, and players must be out 15 minutes after the final whistle.
“Normally, junior hockey players are in the rink an hour before the game,” Noseworthy said.
It will also cost more to use the arenas this season — about $20 to $40 per hour more, Noseworthy figures.
“He said most arenas have an extra fee to make up for lost time between games — that’s to allow for the sanitizing of the rink and provide sufficient time for the group getting off the ice to leave the arena, and the next group to enter the building.
He said Hockey NL has reduced some of its fees to help out the junior teams, and the junior league itself will dip into a reserve account to assist teams and reduce costs.
Robin Short is the Telegram's Sports Editor.
[email protected] | @telyrobinshort