Bad news for the SJHL - with the start date for next season still unknown, the first case of COVID-19 directly connected to a team has been found.
An unidentified player within the Melfort Mustangs organization tested positive for COVID-19, as announced by the league, the Mustangs and the City of Melfort Sept. 25.
Close contacts of the player have been notified by local health officials, with the league saying the player had "limited contact in the community" according to the league's statement. All close contacts have been advised to self-isolate and monitor for symptoms.
"The case and contact protocols and guidelines set by the Saskatchewan Health Authority were followed and are being followed," said the statement.
"This is an advisory and there will be no further comments by any of the organizations at this time."
The SJHL has not yet released a start date for this season, with league officials saying in the past that discussions were underway with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, Saskatchewan Hockey Association, the provincial ministry of health and other relevant groups. The groups involved must have a plan in place to minimize possible transmission of the disease within teams, staff, volunteers and fans before provincial health authorities will give the go-ahead to play.
“The government of Saskatchewan has been having discussions with the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League on how the league can safely return to play,” said a spokesperson with the provincial health ministry in a statement to The Reminder Sept. 17.
“While players and fans are eager to see teams return to the ice, it’s important that they do so in a manner that takes their health and safety into consideration, as well as the health and safety of the communities in which they play.”
It is unknown what impact the positive case may have on the SJHL, other teams within the league or a possible start to the season.
The news is the second blow to the Mustangs, the league and to Saskatchewan hockey to come out of the organization this week. Mustangs player Dylan Ashe, one of the team's top returning players this season, died Sept. 20 in a vehicle accident.
While several SJHL teams have started holding training camps, the Mustangs had not begun their own camp, but players had already begun coming to Melfort ahead of camp.