THE CENTRAL VOICE
Newfoundland and Labrador — Genny Duffenais had 14 missed calls, 44 text messages and can't recall the number of emails from concerned parents and coaches she received in the wake of Hockey NL’s decision to suspend the 2019-2020 season.
Initially, HNL suspended all of its sanctioned activities, leaving plenty of questions about provincial tournaments scheduled to start in a couple of weeks.
On Friday, March 13, the suspension turned into an all-out shutdown over concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
As president of the Stephenville minor hockey association, Duffenais' thoughts turned to the half-a-dozen or so midget division players who were set to graduate from minor hockey this fall.
She thought of the players’ last chance to bring home a provincial championship and the loss of a special ceremony at which they are given their jerseys and a special plaque.
“I think of those kids like they’re my own,” said Duffenais. “This is such a significant part of their lives.
“I am heartbroken over the midget players.”
Marystown minor hockey president Kyle Paul’s son is one of those players who will finish his minor hockey career without a provincial tournament.
It was heart-breaking news to hear his son’s last year was gone.
“We kind of anticipated that it was coming,” said Paul. “We weren’t surprised.”
He had teams scheduled to hit tournaments and play exhibition games up until the Easter break.
More than minor hockey is affected by the shutdown. The province’s major midget hockey league was in the midst of its finals that will no longer be played.
The same can be said for both of the province’s senior hockey leagues and the St. John’s junior hockey league.
In central Newfoundland, the Central Newfoundland Intermediate Hockey League will not continue its finals.
As president of Clarenville minor hockey, Steven Thistle can understand the frustration Duffenais, Paul and others are feeling.
His midget team has been fundraising since September to help cover the costs of their previously scheduled provincial tournament to be held in Labrador City.
Thistle isn’t sure what they will do with the funds.
He mentioned players from his association who were in St. John’s for the AAA bantam tournament who will also have to return home.
Special shirts were bought for a female under-15 tournament on March 27 in Clarenville that may remain unsold.
Thistle said he figured the HNL announcement was coming, but didn’t expect it this soon.
“It is a big impact for everybody,” he said. “Everyone is disappointed it happened.”
It has been difficult not to focus on the players who will not have a next year. The upcoming provincial tournaments meant everything to them.
“That is the tough part,” said CeeBees minor hockey president David Kennedy. “The Easter tournament is the pinnacle of the season.”
He wonders if tournaments could be held at the beginning of the next season, just to give players closure.
St Anthony Polars president Darin Pilgrim cancelled the rest of his association’s ice time at the St. Anthony Polar Centre a day after the HNL decision.
He said it was tough to make the call but agrees with the decision.
“We’re all for it,” said Pilgrim. “We are sad to see the season cancelled.
“For 120 (players) in minor hockey, it is a tough sell.”
In the minor hockey association in Labrador, much of a player’s season is spent fundraising for the upcoming year.
“Fundraising is all we do,” said Labrador West minor hockey president Junior Humphires.
He figures the money they raised will go towards next year's expenses, but he isn’t sure how it will work for graduating midget players.
“It is a call that had to be made,” said Humphries of the decision. “It is going to be tough and I’m hearing a lot of disappointment.”
The youngest minor hockey players also face disappointment.
There are jamborees at the initiation and novice levels that celebrate a player's first steps in their minor hockey journey.
Stephenville had both coming up in their schedule. There was also an exchange program between the association and one in Saint Pierre-Et-Miquelon that is shuttered as well.
“Parents are devastated but they understand,” said Duffenais.