'That will be a catastrophe': SJHL concerned over crowd restrictions as regular season approaches
The Weyburn Red Wings hold training camp as the team awaits the start of the 2020-2021 SJHL season. (Claire Hanna/CTV News Regina)
REGINA -- As the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) aims to start its regular season in the first week of November, the league is concerned over the restrictions on crowd sizes.
The league’s president hopes that they’ll receive approval from Chief Medical Health Officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, to increase the current attendance restrictions of 150 people at in-game events.
“I’ll make no bones about it but that will be a catastrophe,” Bill Chow, SJHL president said of the 150-person limit.
The 150 attendance capacity is the largest allowed in the province since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Oct. 16, Public Health provided the Saskatchewan Hockey Association with approval of 150 fans per game, but the SJHL is seeking a higher number for the beginning of the season, which is scheduled to begin the week of Nov. 2.
“It will probably be in that area of 50 per cent capacity but with social distancing. So when you take that into account basically that will mean 25 to 30 per cent capcity of the arena,” Chow said. “Teams are working on that seating formula and how they’ll make that work.”
Due to the cancellation of playoffs at the end of 2020, missed fundraising opportunities in the summer, and lost revenue due to the postponement of the 2020-21 season, the league has already lost significant finances.
“We’re probably in excess of $1 million collectively amongst the teams and the league,” Chow estimated.
A normal SJHL season would have 58 regular-season games but due to the postponed start date, this season will be shortened. Seven weeks will be set aside at the end of the season for playoffs and Chow said the league is having a meeting with teams Monday afternoon to discuss the season length.
“We’re probably going to be in excess of 44 or 46 games,” Chow said. “We could be as high as 52 games, depends on how tired the teams want to be going into playoffs.”
The teams will also be divided into two divisions until approximately January, to allow for fewer player physical interactions within the league. One division will have Estevan, Melville, Weyburn, Notre Dame, Yorkton and Humboldt. The other divisions will have Kindersley, the Battlefords, La Ronge, Nipawin, Flin Flon and Melfort.
“It’s six and six and then that way they can maintain themselves in whatever you want to call it bubble or grouping,” Chow said.
As of Monday, pre-season exhibition games are being played between two teams only. However, there was an option to play in larger groups.
“We had the option of expanding that so we could have a group of four, but the teams decided that they would just play one other team,” said Chow, saying teams are still adjusting to the new safety protocols.
There’s been a buzz surrounding the Provincial Election, and whether the outcome could play a role in determining the capacity size or new return to play guidelines. Chow says he doesn’t think that will be a factor.
“At the end of the day, it’s Dr. Shahab and Sask Health that have the final say.”