Nova Scotia

Hockey seasons end abruptly, leaving disappointment and futures on hold

A Saint Mary's university coach and some up-and-coming players from Nova Scotia reflect on decisions to cancel hockey playoffs due to COVID-19. "It was really disappointing but we knew there were people making great sacrifices," says one.

'It was really disappointing but we knew there were people making great sacrifices'

The Saint Mary's Huskies beat Guelph 5-1 at the University Cup on March 5, but an hour later the rest of the tournament was cancelled. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Trevor Stienburg will never forget Thursday, March 12.

The coach of the Saint Mary's men's hockey team was sky high following a convincing 5-1 win over Guelph University at the University Cup national tournament in Halifax.

But about an hour after the game, Stienburg attended a meeting where he learned the rest of the tournament was being called off due to COVID-19.

"After the game, everybody was really excited and already looking forward to our next game," said Stienburg, who coached the Huskies to a national championship in 2010. "But when they dropped the bomb on us with the decision it was very difficult for the guys and myself."

Looking back, Stienburg agrees the right decision was made, although it was hard to accept at the time. Stienburg's Huskies were just one game away from playing in the national championship final.

But it wasn't the only major disappointment for the family.

Saint Mary's coach Trevor Stienburg, standing centre, said cancelling the remaining games at the University Cup tournament was hard to accept, but was the right call. (Nick Pearce)

Stienburg's son Matthew is a highly touted rookie playing at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. The team was ranked No. 1 by the NCAA on the eve of the playoffs but then all sports were cancelled due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

Matthew Stienburg was just starting to hit his stride in his rookie season. The Colorado Avalanche draft pick scored three goals in the last two weeks of the season.

Another Halifax native, Morgan Barron, was Cornell's captain this season and led the team in scoring with 32 points in 28 games. Cornell only lost two games all season.

"It was pretty crazy. In 48 hours we went from everything was still on and we were still playing and then before we knew it, it was all cancelled," said Barron.

"We had won nine straight and everything was really clicking for us so it was definitely disappointing to see it come to an end, but at the end of the day we knew there were people making great sacrifices."

Matthew Steinburg just completed his rookie season at Cornell University. (Darl Zehr/Cornell Athletics)

Barron, a New York Rangers draft pick who was named an all-American this season, still has one more year of eligibility at Cornell. But he may not return and will have a big decision to make in the off-season if he decides to turn pro. It's a decision complicated by COVID-19.

"The school may not even be open for us in the fall and you never know what's going to happen to the end of this NHL season and the start of next season," said Barron, from his home in Halifax.

"Once there is a little more clarity, then I think that will be the time for me to make my decision, but I don't know when that will be."

His younger brother Justin, a defenceman with the Halifax Mooseheads, was also frustrated with how the season ended.

He had already missed 29 games after being diagnosed with a blood clot. When he finally came back to the Mooseheads lineup he only played in seven games before the CHL suspended play over COVID-19 concerns.

Even though he missed half of the season he is still considered a potential first-round pick in the upcoming NHL draft.

Halifax Mooseheads defenceman Justin Barron missed 29 games this season after being diagnosed with a blood clot and was just rounding back into form when the CHL suspended play. (David Chan/Halifax Mooseheads)

While Saint Mary's players are doing what they can to stay in shape, Stienburg is still working on recruiting. This time of year he would normally be taking in junior games across the country looking for potential players to join his Huskies. But this year is much different.

"It's all being done by phone and it's frustrating," said Stienburg, who just completed his 23rd season as Huskies coach. "Usually we are busy travelling and watching games but we don't have any leagues to watch."