REGINA -- Many teams are still practicing after Canada West cancelled all of its winter sports earlier this week.

That includes the Regina Cougars men’s hockey team.

The university varsity team trains at the Co-operators Centre off campus, even though no games will occur this season.  

“I’ve been optimistic all along. I really thought we’d have an opportunity to play after Christmas,” said Todd Johnson, head coach of the Cougars.  

The decision to cancel came a week later than expected.

The Canada West COVID-19 task force said rising case numbers in university-aged students and interprovincial travel restrictions were major factors in pulling the plug on the season.

Student athletes won’t lose a year of eligibility.

For fifth-year players who are on pace to graduate in 2021, however, it’s likely the end of their varsity career.

“Definitely a tough way to end the career here in Regina. I would have liked to have been able to finish out my fifth year, but unfortunately that’s not the case,” said senior Tyler King.

Teammate Tristan Frei, also in his final year, echoed King’s comments.

“I’m not angry,” he said. “I’m just a little bit disappointed on why we couldn’t try to make it work.”

Both Frei and King played junior hockey before joining the Cougars.

Frei was with the SJHL’s Melfort Mustangs and King spent the majority of his career in the WHL, splitting time between the Spokane Chiefs and the Kootenay Ice.

Both the SJHL and the WHL have made plans on moving ahead with a return-to-play plan, which makes the Canada West cancellation and even tougher pill to swallow, said the players.

“It’s confusing why we can’t play when the WHL is going to play, the SJHL is going to play, the NCAA is going to play, and we’re the only league that’s not allowed to play,” Frei said.

Johnson said he is looking at this year as an opportunity to work on the team’s details, after the Cougars finished second-last in the conference last season with an 8-17 record.

“I look to where we need to improve and I think we’re one of the least skilled teams in the league, so we can use this opportunity to work on our skill,” Johnson said.

Frei is also looking for a chance to improve his game. Even though he’ll graduate, he’s hoping to play professionally overseas in Germany in 2021.

However, he said it will be tough to say goodbye to the team.  

“I had a good run here,” Frei said. “We really pushed last year, went on a six-game winning streak, which hasn’t been done in a long time, and I think I’m leaving the team in a better place than I found it.”