REGINA -- The Saskatchewan government has pledged $4 million to support WHL and SJHL teams in the province, as leagues continue to grapple with pandemic challenges.

The WHL will receive $3 million to help teams address revenue shortfalls – $600,000 for each team in the province. The government will provide $1 million to the SJHL. 

In a press release, the province said officials will continue to work with both hockey leagues – and other sports leagues – on ways to safely return to play. 

Minister of Trade and Export Development Jeremy Harrison said the teams and leagues were in a position where their survival was in question without support

“We came to a conclusion that we just can’t have these teams not survive, that these leagues need to go forward,” Harrison said.

SJHL President Bill Chow says the league currently has less than $30,000 in reserves. Usually, at this time of year, they would have roughly $300,000 as they average $800,000 in gross revenue annually. Chow said the league plans on splitting the $1 million equally between the 12 clubs, which are all community-owned.

“It’s a very small band-aid on a big cut and so it’ll stop some of the bleeding,” Chow said.

Three of the five WHL clubs in Saskatchewan are community-owned. The Saskatoon Blades is privately-owned, Blades general manager Colin Priestner said their losses are significant. 

“Having all of our employees remain on this year but having no revenue to supplement that has been really difficult. The losses are into the million dollar plus range,” Priestner revealed. 

The Moose Jaw Warriors is one of the community-owned WHL clubs. Warriors general manager Alan Millar estimated the team has lost $700,000 since Mar. 2020. 

“The economic impact, the value that we have in our communities in terms of minor hockey and development, community relations, charitable initiatives,” Millar said, referencing the groups influenced by the Warriors.  

The government said it has supported businesses throughout the province with several financial programs since the beginning of the pandemic, but the WHL and SJHL did not qualify.

“There were no support programs that were directly applicable for the junior hockey leagues,” Harrison said.

The Minister said the money is coming from the province's general revenue fund. It is a result of ongoing discussions with the leagues over the past two months.

Harrison said the government prioritized junior hockey because other leagues, like the Canadian Junior Football league and Western Canadian Baseball League, are eligible for other programs.

“A lot of those organizations have been eligible for different support programs and many have taken advantage of those support programs as well,” Harrison said.

Harrison said each league received funding based off of their individual requests.The WHL pushed back its start date in December. On Jan. 8, the League made a commitment to play the regular season, however, no start date has been announced. 

“All models and schedule formats are being considered by the WHL to ensure a WHL season is provided for the players. The 2020-21 WHL Regular Season will consist of 24 games,” the WHL said in a press release. 

The SJHL season was paused in November – after just over a month of play – due to new COVID-19 restrictions brought in by the province, which suspended all team and group sports. Chow said the SJHL has a committee evaluating different return to play scenarios.