Lakers, SIJHL hope to resume in February

By Allan Bradbury
Staff Writer

The Superior International Junior Hockey League (SIJHL) has yet to resume its season following its Christmas break due to restrictions brought in by Ontario’s government but officials are optimistic the season can resume safely should they receive permission at the end of January

Players were starting to make their way back to their teams when news broke about arenas and gyms being shut down in the first week of January sending teams and players into chaos according to SIJHL commissioner Darrin Nicholas.

“For the most part, this was all breaking as players were at airports ready to come back,” Nicholas said. “It was a frantic few hours of calls from teams saying ‘what do we tell the players?’”

Fort Frances Lakers President Gary Silander says the Lakers did make it back to Fort Frances before the shut-down was initiated. Some have elected to stay in Fort Frances with their billet families while others opted to return home pending the season resuming.

“We found out about three hours too late,” SIlander said. “They actually all did arrive back, Some of them decided they were going to ride it out here because their hometowns were more infected than what we are here and a few of them have gone home.”

Nicholas is hoping that when Jan. 27 rolls around the government will give the go-ahead for sports to resume. If that does happen, he hopes to have games up and running a week later. The league doesn’t want to try and reschedule arena dates with so many unknowns at this time.

“Tentatively we’re targeting Feb 4 for resumption,” Nicholas said. “Should we get back to the rinks as planned on Jan 27. The thought is we’ll just jump into our schedule at that point and then we can look to see what we need to do to balance it out.”

Silander says the players who did go back home after returning to their families will hopefully be returning in a couple of weeks to start some outdoor training as a team back in Fort Frances with the hope of being back in shape for the season to resume. In some cases players from western Canada can still skate and go to the gym back home so they are able to do that while away.

Silander also said that the players were tested upon their return to Fort Frances and everyone was negative for COVID which was nice to see.

Silander says that he is hopeful the season will be able to resume soon even if a capacity limit were placed on the team at Ice For Kids Arena they would still be able to have the number of fans that usually come out.

“They might cut our capacities back for our crowds to 50 per cent but 50 per cent of Ice For Kids Arena gives us our average crowd most nights,” Silander said. “The biggest thing for all of this is we need crowds to support us.”

Silander also says he wants to see the players be able to come back and showcase themselves in the hopes of making it to play hockey at the scholastic level and get an education while also playing hockey.

“Some of these 20 year-olds, this is their last hurrah at junior hockey,” Silander said. “To maybe get onto a US college scholarship or play hockey later on in school. I feel so bad for them finishing their year under COVID protocol where they can’t even showcase their talents, it’s tough. It’s like going to a job interview and they fire you before you get there.”