(UPDATE: This story previously stated the Bombers would go ahead with a weekend series against the Kindersley Klippers this weekend. Following the story's release, the team and the SJHL postponed both games. The story has been edited accordingly.)
The Flin Flon Bombers have postponed two away games scheduled for this weekend after COVID-19-related health orders closed all recreational and hockey activity in Manitoba.
Instead of playing at the Whitney Forum this weekend as originally scheduled, the SJHL announced Nov. 11 that the Bombers would play in Kindersley Nov. 13-14. The Kindersley Klippers were originally the Bombers' scheduled opponent before Manitoba moved into "red" on the provincial pandemic response system earlier this week, which included shutting down all public recreation areas and arenas, including the Whitney Forum, for four weeks.
However, the Bombers and the league changed course Nov. 12, announcing shortly after 4 p.m. that the games would be postponed.
The Bombers had planned to play road games in Battlefords against the North Stars Nov. 20-21 and planned to postpone a regularly scheduled home game against La Ronge Nov. 27 before playing a regularly scheduled game Nov. 28 in La Ronge. The team had planned to play no games in Flin Flon or the surrounding area at least until the end of December.
Bombers team president Travis Rideout said the team would not be holding games within Flin Flon or nearby in Creighton, Saskatchewan for the duration of the public health order. The team hopes to hold practices at the Creighton Sportex, which remains open, but plans for that have not yet been confirmed.
"It would definitely not look good for us to play games in Creighton. In order for the season to continue for us, we may practice in Creighton and all of our games would be played on the road," Rideout said.
During the offseason, the Bombers did approach the Town of Creighton about possibly using the Sportex as the team's home ice depending on provincial COVID-19 situations and related regulations. Those discussions never bore fruit, according to local officials. The team has now asked local and regional health officials if the team would be allowed to hold practices in the Sportex, not games.
"The original question was brought to then – they misunderstood us in thinking we would want to hold our games there. That's not right. That's not correct at all. We have to be creative with our schedule in order for the season to continue, we have to play our games on the road and hopefully, be able to practice in the Sportex," Rideout said.
In addition to all services and team functions at the Whitney Forum, the Bombers have also closed the team's Main Street office in accordance with provincial COVID-19 regulations.
"We're following all health guidelines but we're just seeing whether or not it's kosher for us to do this - we can't confirm that we're able to do this, so we're waiting on people's approval at this point," Rideout said Nov. 12.
When asked by the CBC's Bartley Kives at the province's Nov. 12 media briefing about the Bombers possibly moving to Creighton, Manitoba chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Manitobans shouldn't be attempting to find ways around the rules. When asking the question, Kives asked if public health officials approved the Bombers would be moving from Flin Flon to Creighton to continue playing - the team is not moving operations and will not host games in Creighton, Rideout said. Roussin said the decision would not require approval from the province.
"It doesn't require approval [from the provincial government], but these are the kind of things I'm speaking about - it's not to call out anybody, but these orders are in place to protect everybody and to protect Manitobans. I really discourage Manitobans from trying to find ways around the orders," Roussin said to Kives' question.
"I know they're difficult, they're more difficult for certain people than others and we all know that, but we can't spend our time right now trying to find their way around the orders. Right now, we need everybody to step up, do their part and bring these numbers down together."
Rideout said the team was not trying to find a loophole in provincial COVID-19 rules, adding that as a Manitoba border town team playing in a Saskatchewan league, the team has had to comply with health orders from both provinces.
"We're not trying to skirt around anything when it comes to that. We know the importance of all of this. I would never want anyone to think that we are trying to be above health. That's never been the case with us. We've worked with both provinces, both health authorities. We are unique when it comes to that in that we have to deal with both and we've always dealt with both from the beginning."
No updated information has been provided by the SJHL about what may happen with the Bombers' December schedule, which includes eight schedules games against divisional opponents, including four scheduled home games. Under current Manitoba restrictions, which will in place until at least Dec. 10, the Forum and other Manitoba arenas would remain closed.
The Bombers played their home opener Nov. 7 in front of a crowd of 400 people, around the maximum allowable capacity of the Whitney Forum under then-current Manitoba rules. Capacity for the remaining teams in the SJHL has been limited to 150 fans, according to Saskatchewan provincial guidelines.