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Major junior leagues announce they will not hold playoffs, Memorial Cup cancelled, too
This was shaping up to be a year to remember for Dawson Mercer… and that’s the way it’s turning out, although not exactly in the way he might have anticipated just a month ago.
The 18-year-old from Bay Roberts and major junior hockey players across the country had their 2019-20 seasons shut down for good Monday, when the Canadian Hockey League and its three member circuits —the Western Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League — announced that with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, they have decided it would be impossible to hold playoffs.
That also means for first time in 102 years, the Memorial Cup, Canadian major junior hockey’s championship trophy, will not be awarded.
“Unfortunately, given the troubling state of our global climate and public welfare, there is still too much risk and uncertainty to move forward in good conscience,” the CHL said in a statement.
Last week, the leagues had announced they were cancelling the remainder of their regular-season schedules, but still retained hope of being able to play a post-season.
That hope ended Monday.
“We’re all feeling … I wouldn’t say the word is shocked, but it is extremely disappointing. It’s unfortunate, the way this year was going down,” said Mercer, a forward with the QMJHL’s Chicoutimi Sagueneens.
A member of Canada’s gold medal-winning team at the 2020 world junior championship in the Czech Republic, Mercer had returned from Europe in January to join the Sagueneens, who had traded for him in an effort to help strengthen the lineup for what was hoped would be a lengthy playoff journey.
“It was contending team, ready for a Cup run,” said Mercer. “We had stacked up on players, good players with the want to win. We were really confident we could all the way and win a Presidents Cup and then, hopefully, a Memorial Cup.
“To have all this happen, and happen in such a short period of time, to have it all shut down so quickly, it’s hard to know exactly what the feel, and especially this being my draft year.”
Mercer is expected to be a first-round pick when the National Hockey League holds its 2020 Entry Draft, but no one knows for sure how the coronavirus crisis might impact the draft process, including the NHL Combine or the draft weekend itself, scheduled for Montreal in late June.
The #CHL and regional leagues have made the difficult decision to cancel our 2020 Playoffs and @CHLMemorialCup.— CanadianHockeyLeague (@CHLHockey) March 23, 2020
We look forward with hope that next season will provide new opportunity to celebrate and that the #MemorialCup may be presented.
FULL 📰: https://t.co/Jq67zZGpDv pic.twitter.com/K1VfeLdzN1
Nevertheless, Mercer isn’t going to allow the uncertainty about what is to come or disappointment about what has happened in the last week to stop his training in frustration.
There may be no playoffs, but there will be a draft in some form and that’s where Mercer’s entire hockey focus will be directed.
“It is what it is. I can’t change it at all,” he said. “You have to look at the positive side and one way of doing that is to realize I have a lot more time to get ready for the draft and what comes after that.
“For me, that’s working at getting stronger, getting even quicker. I want to be able to show up to my first NHL (training) camp being ready to play with these older, more experienced players.
“So I want to use this time wisely, and not worry about what I know isn’t going to happen this year, which is the playoffs, and concentrate on what I know is coming and that’s the draft and next season.”
In all likelihood, Mercer will return to the junior ranks in the fall and get another shot at a Q title, but given the upcoming draft, he’s aiming even higher.
“Instead of just preparing to go back to junior, I want to prepare myself as if I was going to the NHL level just in case I get a shot. That way, I would be ready for it.
“And if not, it would help me make an even bigger mark in junior next year,” added Mercer, who is also in line to return as a member of Canada’s world junior team.
Clarenville’s Leonard was also on a QMJHL playoff favourite
Dawson Mercer is not the only Newfoundlander to have his QMJHL season end. Players like Zach Dean of Mount Pearl (Gatineau Olympiques), Brett Budgell of Paradise (Charlottetown Islanders), Liam Leonard of Clarenville (Moncton Wildcats), Noah Wilson of St. John’s (Drummondville Voltigeurs), Port aux Basques native Alex Drover (Saint John Sea Dogs) and St. John’s native Lucas Fitzpatrick (Baie Comeau Drakkars) were all on teams that would have participated in the Presidents Cup playdowns had they gone ahead in the usual format.
But Leonard, whose Wildcats lead the Eastern Conference and Mercer, part of a Sagueneens team that sits third in the overall QMJHL points standings, were on teams that were considered among the favourites, along with the league-leading Sherbrooke Phoenix, to win a league title.
Both players had been acquired by their respective teams in mid-season trades as part of efforts to strengthen their lineups for playoff runs this spring.
With files from Postmedia