SJHL announces cancellation of 2021 season after bubble plan not approved

The SJHL has officially cancelled the league's 2021 season.

The league announced the cancellation March 23 after an attempt to host a playing "hub" in Weyburn were not approved by provincial health officials. The league has not played a game since November.

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"A decision by Saskatchewan Government and Health has been made on the submissions that have been before them [and] unfortunately the SJHL will not be allowed to return to play. In part, the current conditions of COVID-19 in the province of Saskatchewan do not appear to allow a return to play, now or in the next few weeks," reads a statement issued by the league.

"The SJHL will now turn its focus on returning to play in September 2021 and having a complete season ending with the crowning of a SJHL champion."

The most recent SJHL plan was to hold a shortened season based out of Weyburn, with all teams staying in hotels in the area, playing out of Crescent Point Place and having limited - if any - contact with the outside world. Seven SJHL teams reportedly expressed interest in joining the hub, including the Flin Flon Bombers. No spectators would have been allowed in the arena and games would have been broadcast online using league partner HockeyTV.

According to current Saskatchewan public health measures as of March 23, all team or group sports activities, games and competition, including junior hockey, have been suspended. Athletes under age 18 are allowed to practice, providing they are in groups of eight people or fewer while following mask use and distancing guidelines.

In theory, the SJHL hub would have worked in a similar way as the existing “bubbles” used by Western Hockey League (WHL) teams. Teams across the western league are using various approaches to start a shorter season, along with teams based in Saskatchewan and Manitoba taking part in a “bubble” in Regina with provincial health officials’ blessing. The bubble includes heavily restricted access - players and staff enter and do not leave, with anyone needing to leave for medical treatment or for other reasons unable to rejoin before meeting a quarantine requirement.

Other WHL teams, particularly those in Alberta, are continuing to travel from community to community for games but are doing so while sequestering their teams away from the public and closing games off to crowds. The WHL’s British Columbia-based teams will hold a hybrid model, basing operations out of two smaller “bubbles”. WHL teams typically have larger budgets, corporate sponsorship bases and bank accounts than junior A franchises, allowing them to greater cushion the financial blow of building and maintaining a bubble.

Despite only having between 10,000 and 11,000 residents, Weyburn is home to several large hotels - at least seven along with other, smaller locations in and around the community. Costs would have been covered by a mix of the teams, league, corporate sponsors and players and their families if approved.

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