The Central Canada Hockey League is determined to complete its 2021-22 season. The league has been shutdown since mid-December because of the rising number of COVID-19 cases, but league commissioner Kevin Abrams is confident the league’s 12 teams will each be able to play a 55-game schedule and a full post-season.
The league is planning to resume its regular season schedule on January 26th. By that time, about 60 league games will have been postponed, including ten Pembroke Lumber Kings games. Making up those games will require teams to play more mid-week games and the league hasn’t ruled out some showcase weekend events in a single location where several games can be played.
“We owe it to our players, parents and supporters to play a full schedule. Sometimes it will be a bit congested because of the number of games, but these are players who for the most part haven’t played very many hockey games in the last couple of years,” says Abrams, who isn’t concerned about the more intense schedule.
“I think we will find ways to fit the games in and still have enough time for rest and recuperation for the athletes,” adds Abrams.
Prior to the pandemic, the league had been playing a 62-game schedule. It opted to drop seven games to allow teams to put a greater focus on player development by having more practice time. “Ironically we are going back to the same level of schedule. The congestion will be similar to what we were doing before. It won’t be radically different,” says Abrams.
The Commissioner has been very vocal on social media about his disappointment with the latest provincial shutdown that has forced his league to extend its suspension of play. While major junior teams in the Ontario Hockey League have been given approval to continue playing in empty arenas, all other junior hockey leagues are on hold. But, the man who has been at the helm of the league for the past 16 years is confident the CCHL will complete its season and crown a champion for the first time in two years.
When the coronavirus swept into North America in March of 2020 the league was just starting its post-season. The games abruptly ended and for the next 18 months the league did its best to offer players developmental scrimmages within league bubbles that matched two teams in geographical areas. Pembroke was matched with Renfrew. The two clubs faced each other several times in a modified format that limited body contact and was really designed to ensure players were getting ice time. It wasn’t the brand of hockey junior players are accustomed to playing and so when the fall of 2021 rolled around and the league got back on track the players rejoiced and returned to regular playing conditions.
For the most part, the first half of the season was business as usual. The league required its players, coaches and team officials to be fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus and everyone who attended league games, outside of players, was required to wear masks in league arenas. It wasn’t until a week before the Christmas holiday break that any games had to be postponed for COVID reasons.
The league planned to resume play the first week of January, but when the daily count of COVID infections soared in the province, the Ontario government started to impose restrictions on businesses and organizations in an effort to slow the spread and protect its fragile health care system.
The league plans to announce its revised schedule within the next few days. When Abrams was asked on a scale of one to ten, how confident he was that the league would be able to play a full schedule, he answered “Ten,” citing that the league has done everything required to keep its players, coaches and fans safe and teams have done “an excellent job.”
The last time the Lumber Kings played was on December 15 in Nepean when Jack Stockfish scored late in the game to give the Kings a 4-3 win over the Raiders. Two days later the Kings game in Carleton Place was postponed when concerns were raised about COVID-19 testing results within the league.
When the schedule was paused, Pembroke was in first place in the league’s Robinson division with 41 points, only three points back of the league leading Ottawa Junior Senators. Lumber Kings captain Brady Egan was leading the league in scoring with 43 points. The league trade deadline is January 10 so it will be interesting to see how busy teams are, or given the uncertainty of the pandemic if they are more conservative with their approach to making moves.
If the league does re-start as planned, the Kings first game back will be on Friday, January 28th in Navan. The club’s first home game will be two nights later on Sunday, January 30th when they host the Renfrew Wolves.