SUNDRE – The town would have been a bustling place today with hundreds of hockey players, coaches, friends and family converging on Sundre for the start of the Hockey Alberta Bantam Tier 4 Provincial Championship Tournament which was scheduled for March 19 - 22.
Instead, some businesses including eateries, pubs and even a hair salon, are closed, school classes are cancelled and recreational and municipal facilities -- including the arena where the tournament was to be played -- are closed to the public in the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hockey Canada officials pulled the plug on the event -- including similar playdowns across the province and the nation -- a week ago today over COVID-19 concerns.
After months of planning, the Sundre Minor Hockey Association posted on Thursday, March 12 following Hockey Canada’s announcement, “that amid public safety concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hockey Alberta Bantam Tier 4 Provincial Championship Tournament and all affiliated activities have been cancelled. These events will not be rescheduled.”
Jason Martyn, one of the bantam team’s coaches, said that while the decision was understandable, the outcome was nevertheless disheartening.
“Disappointment more for the kids than anything else. They worked so hard and they battled all season to get there. A lot of those kids have never even made it to provincials,” he said.
Eight teams from across the province were prepared to face off on today at the Sundre Arena, with a ceremonial puck drop for the first game just after noon. They included the Sundre Huskies, Plamondon Cougars, High level North Stars, Oyen Bees, Edson Sabres, Peace River Stampeders, the Whitecourt Wolverines, and the Wainright Bisons.
Some of the players are getting closer to the end of their minor hockey careers, said Martyn, and this last-minute development was an “unfortunate kick in the butt.”
Although the coach said at the time that the team had not yet all been gathered to discuss the news, those he had a chance to talk with “are pretty bummed out about it.”
Additionally, all of the volunteers and people who endeavoured over the past few months to prepare for provincials “now have even more work” cut out for them, he said.
Sponsorships need to be returned to companies that donated prizes or money, and programs that were ordered will still need to be paid for, he said.
“It’s a huge expense without any return to the association. This is one of the biggest fundraisers that Sundre minor hockey would have had. That’s concerning as well,” he said.
When the news settled, volunteers began attempting to contact businesses that had donations lined up to cancel wherever possible, but it was already too late to abort some arrangements, he said.
“That’s going to be a pretty big loss for our association this year,” he said.
The ripple effect will also create an economic blowback throughout the entire community, he added, pointing out that many rooms had to be booked in local hotels well in advance to prove the association had enough rooms to host all of the teams.
Tim Hus, a well-travelled country musician who calls Sundre home, was also scheduled to play on Friday, March 20 at the Sundre Community Centre during a bantam provincials concert.
Wade Church, the association’s president, said the organization was following official guidelines and recommendations in cancelling the concert.
“We’re just trying to keep up with Health Canada and Hockey Alberta standards,” Church said when contacted shortly after the announcement was made.
“Honestly, this is so new to us. We don’t really have that much information right now. We’re just doing our part to slow down the spread (of the virus).”
Asked whether Sundre might next year be granted another chance to host provincials by Hockey Alberta, he said, “It’s a bid application you put in each year.”
Church anticipates the process will remain the same, and that the association would have to resubmit another bid.
Although cut short, the bantam Huskies ended their season on a high note, claiming both their league and division championship titles.
“That’s the most upsetting thing for me as a coach, is to see that skill level and how far they came only to get shorted right at the end,” said Martyn.
“I truly, honestly feel…that we had a very honest chance of winning it.”
Hockey Canada officials did not make the decision lightly.
“Without question, this is an unprecedented period of difficulty for the sports world. The health and safety of all participants in sport, including players, coaches, staff, officials, fans, family, volunteers and the general public, is of the utmost importance to Hockey Canada," reads a statement issued Thursday, March 12 on behalf of Hockey Canada from Tom Renney, chief executive officer, and Scott Smith, president and chief operating officer.
“After much consultation with the Hockey Canada membership, our chief medical officer and public health officials, the Hockey Canada Board of Directors has made the decision to cancel all Hockey Canada-sanctioned activities, including our national championships, until further notice, effective Friday, March 13,” reads the statement.
“We recognize the tremendous effort that has been put forth all year by individuals across the country as they participate in Canada’s game. Although it is difficult to process the hockey season ending abruptly, we feel this is the best course of action in order to do our part in keeping our country safe.”
- With files from Lea Smaldon
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