Junior B teams sit and wait
St. Catharines Falcons coach Tyler Bielby would love nothing more than to see his charges play in some meaningful games.
Bielby had been putting the Falcons through their paces at practice since September and was looking forward to the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League beginning play this month. The GOJHL had hoped to begin training camps Jan. 15 followed by a regular season starting Feb. 4.
But that changed when the league put the proposed regular season on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic which caused a province-wide shutdown and new restrictions which closed indoor sports facilities as of Dec. 26.
“I know whether there’s a five-game or 25-game, or 30-game regular season, I’d like to see the kids be able to play,” Bielby said. “I know there has been some work put in and some organizations that have put in a lot of work to keep the players safe and give the players a place to come play. If we can find a way to do that safely, we just want to play no matter how many games it is.
“Most athletes and coaches are competitive by nature. They live for playoffs. That’s where sport is at its finest. If we can find a way to get to a playoff series, I think we all benefit.”
GOJHL commissioner Mark Tuck said the league plans to leave no stone unturned in an effort to play some sort of schedule this season if possible.
“Our priority is to exhaust all options in order to have some sort of season,” Tuck said. “We are doing everything we can to get our players, teams and league through development and game play to a safe return to the ice.”
Bielby addressed the Falcons following their final practice before Christmas and admitted he could sense their uneasiness.
“In our last chat as a group, looking around the room, you could definitely see the unknown in their faces,” he said. “They are really starting to gel together as a group and creating friendships that last a lifetime and to not know when they were going to see each other next was awfully hard to swallow.
“We thought we were making some good progress and we’d like to see that progress through, but know we have to wait to find out when we can do that.”
Fort Erie Meteors general manager/coach Nik Passero feels for his players as well.
“I feel bad for our staff because they put so much into it. We deserve better but there’s a lot more going on. It’s more than hockey,” Passero said. “We have eight 20-year-olds and they don’t know what’s going on with their future.”
The Meteors fared well in pre-season scrimmages versus Niagara Falls and Pelham, winning 10 of 16 games.
“It’s frustrating, especially because we were doing well. I know they are exhibition games but when it’s all you have, you put everything into it,” Passero said.
Pelham Panthers coach/director of hockey operations Tim Toffolo was disappointed to see things shut down. The Panthers had plenty of ice time and were also able to participate in 20 pre-season scrimmages.
“We’re given our guys programs to keep in shape and that’s pretty much what we can do now,” he said. “We’re all in the same waiting mode seeing what’s going to happen over the next few weeks and where the numbers are going to go.”
Thorold Blackhawks coach/owner Scott Barnes kept his team busy with 14 pre-season scrimmages as well as plenty of ice time and off-ice workouts.
“My commitment to them is to make sure they get something this year,” Barnes said. “We provided them with a lot. They were going a lot. I think everybody was happy with the amount of ice and off-ice workouts and everything we were able to give them.
“We made the best out of the situation.”
Barnes is open to suggestion should the league be able to get back to playing.
“Whatever we can get the guys would be great. If we can get some games going by March and April, I would think that would be a productive season. Get as much as we can.”
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