WHL players eligible to suit up for SJHL teams before delayed season begins
REGINA -- Western Hockey League (WHL) players have the opportunity to suit up for Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) teams this fall, before their own season starts.
The SJHL is giving WHL players an exemption to play due to COVID-19, allowing them to compete in their league.
WHL players will be allowed to compete and play in the SJHL until December 19. The WHL season is scheduled to begin in January.
“I know it’s only until December, but it’s definitely exciting to insert those guys into our lineup,” Mat Hehr, the head coach and general manager of the Yorkton Terriers, said.
The Terriers have four players from the WHL currently on their roster, Brett Kemp (Medicine Hat Tigers), Jackson Berezowski (Everett Silvertips), Kishaun Gervais (Portland Winterhawks) and Carson Miller (Victoria Royals). So far, seven teams have added WHL players to their lineups.
“I think it’s great for the community. We’re getting some hometown kids to wear the Yorkton Terriers jersey and some very skilled players,” Hehr added.
The Melville Millionaires have also added two WHL players to their roster, Jaydon Dureau and Reece Newkirk, both with the Winterhawks.
The forwards play on a line together with Portland and had 135 points combined in 2019-20. They’ll add depth and offence to Melville’s roster, but Millionaire’s head coach and general manager Mike Rooney said he’s more interested in their character.
“It’s not about getting points in the standings, it has nothing to do with it, it’s all about our culture,” Rooney said. “I don’t want to call them mentors but at the same time, let our guys see what it looks like to be working and practicing and playing at a higher level.”
Newkirk, who is originally from Moose Jaw, Sask., said his WHL general manager, Mike Johnston, thought it was a good idea to play in the SJHL. He noted there’s risks of getting injured, but it’s also good to get out on the ice.
“Our season’s delayed until Christmas so my teammate Jaydon and I thought it was a good idea to come down, get on some ice with a good team, and a good coach,” Newkirk said.
This season, SJHL teams aren’t allowed affiliate players on their rosters, which includes Midget AAA players. The decision is an effort to reduce mixing rosters among teams.
SJHL athletes may lose their roster spot for the first two months of the regular season to a WHL player. However, teams have until January 10 to declare their 25 player cards, which is three weeks after the date WHL players have to leave SJHL rosters. Some fans felt this would create issues for SJHL rosters using player cards for WHL athletes who would only be playing a portion of the season.
“I guess people in general shouldn’t worry about it. We’ve managed it, there will be no cards burned at the end of the day,” Rooney said.
However, there will be players sent to junior B teams as a result of being temporarily let go because a WHL player has their roster spot.
“We definitely have to get creative,” Hehr said, as his team has four WHL players. “Unfortunately we have to make tough decisions to either release players to Junior B and let them go play top six minutes and develop more, or unfortunately trade some players away.”
The Terriers are 2-0 against the Millionaires after two pre-season games. They face each other on Oct. 30 at 7:30 p.m. in Melville and on Oct. 31 at 7:30 p.m. in Yorkton. The SJHL regular season begins Nov. 6.