GAME ON?: Minor hockey officials hope to extend season into late May

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The runway to finish this year’s minor hockey season has been extended to May 31.

The Ontario Hockey Federation told its member organizations, which include the London Jr. Knights, Elgin-Middlesex Chiefs and Greater London Hockey Association, to prepare in case the Ontario government eases COVID-19 restrictions in February and plans to offer programming well into spring.

“Our goal is to give as much leeway as we can this year,” OHF executive director Phil McKee said. “If an association can do it and we’re able to come back at some point next month, then great. By extending, it’s an opportunity for kids to get some experience and have some fun on the ice.”

Some organizations in the province, such as the North Bay minor hockey association, have already cancelled their seasons.

“We recognize there will be areas that will never get there,” McKee said. “The rinks are expensive to run and we understand a lot of them can’t operate into May, but if you can provide programming when we move out of lockdown, then do it.”

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The willingness is there from local volunteers.

“We’re meeting and doing our best to get hockey back as soon as we can,” Kevin Gardner, Jr. Knights vice-president of operations, said.

In Komoka, Elgin-Middlesex is ready to help neighbouring associations if their arenas are unavailable.

“We have to find out which rinks are staying open and which ones are going to make a go of it,” Chiefs president Karen daSilva said. “We’re going to encourage it for all age groups but we need people to play. As long as we can, we will proceed and our volunteers are ready to do it.”

The season extension will run up against the start of other sports like baseball, soccer and lacrosse.

“There is a symbiotic relationship between hockey and other sports at that time of year and it’s going to have to be that way now,” McKee said. “The goal isn’t hockey only. It’s from a mental health standpoint where if kids can participate in athletics in a safe manner, then let’s get them into athletics.”

The chance to play until the end of May also opens the door again for draft-eligible skaters at the under-16 to under-18 levels to impress scouts.

“You really feel for those kids because this is their last year of minor hockey and they have hardly played at all,” daSilva said. “We have to be prepared right away.

“As soon as it’s safe to do so, then play as much as we can because you can’t predict what’s going to happen next (with the coronavirus).”

rpyette@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/RyanatLFPress

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