Manitoba

'Bigger than hockey': Hockey Manitoba cancels seasons amid COVID-19 concerns

Scores of young Manitoba athletes won't be able to finish off their seasons as planned after a number of governing sports organizations decided to cancel events amid growing coronavirus concerns.

Basketball Manitoba, Ringette Manitoba, Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association also pull plug on seasons

Kaelyn Morden and the Stonewall Blues played their last game of the season at Notre Dame Avenue Thursday night. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Kaelyn Morden emerged from the dressing room at Notre Dame Arena Thursday after playing what will be her final game of the season with her team. It wasn't supposed to end like this.

"I'm very sad … because I love hockey," said Morden, one of thousands of hockey players whose seasons have been cut short due to concerns surrounding COVID-19.

Scores of young Manitoba athletes won't be able to finish off their seasons as planned after a number of governing sports organizations decided to cancel events amid growing coronavirus concerns.

Provincial health officials announced the first three presumptive cases of COVID-19 Thursday, and within hours Hockey Manitoba pulled the plug on all of its sanctioned games and events for the remainder of the season.

The executive director of Hockey Manitoba said it was a difficult, unprecedented decision that was made in consultation with Hockey Canada and in the interest of all players and fans.

Players face-off one last time at Notre Dame Arena after Hockey Manitoba cut the all seasons short Thursday following the first presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

"If you said to someone that you're cancelling hockey I don't know if they'd believe you," Peter Woods said.

"But I think if you step back and you look at it from outside, and recognize that this is bigger than hockey and it's about the safety of people and their well-being and their health, it was a relatively easy decision in that respect."

Although some games were still being played shortly after the decision was announced, Hockey Manitoba said the cancellation of the season will take full effect on Friday. 

Hockey parents at Notre Dame Arena Thursday night had mixed reactions to the news that their kids wouldn't get to compete in playoffs, but Oliver Froese said it was probably for the best.

"It's disappointing, the kids have played hard all year and they always look forward to the finals," said Froese,  

"I guess you've got to err on the side of caution and I guess they made a good call."

WATCH | Hockey parents mixed over premature end of season:

Parents at Notre Dame Arena weigh in on Hockey Manitoba's choice to end the season over COVID-19 concerns. 0:29

The announcement mirrors moves at the pro levels as well. The NBA and NHL suspended their seasons on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.

"It impacts everything," said Hockey Manitoba president Paul Whitehead. "It's huge."

He said all minor hockey in the province has come to a standstill, including the 35,000 players and members of Hockey Manitoba. 

Parents and family members cheer as players play what is likely the final game of the 2019-2020 season due to Manitoba seasons being cut short due to COVID-19 concerns. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Other leagues have also cancelled or postponed seasons until further notice.

Following the lead of its parent league in the CHL, the Western Hockey League will also pause its season. The Brandon Wheat Kings and Winnipeg Ice play in the WHL.

The Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association has cancelled high school basketball and hockey championships, along with badminton and other school sports.

Basketball Manitoba lauded that move, following up by cancelling the junior high basketball championships and advising all member clubs, teams, leagues and camps to stop games and practices Friday.

Ringette Manitoba tweeted Thursday night saying it, too, is stopping play for the same concerns.

The national 2020 U Sports men's volleyball championships were scheduled to go ahead at the University of Manitoba this weekend. Initially U Sports said only team members and staff would be allowed in, but the organization later fully cancelled the event.

About the Author

Bryce Hoye

Reporter

Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology and interests in courts, social justice, health and more. He is the Prairie rep for OutCBC. Story idea? Email bryce.hoye@cbc.ca.

With files from Wendy Parker

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