Play suspended in Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League

A silence enveloped the Peninsula Panthers dressing room post-game late Friday night in the Panorama Recreation Centre. It had nothing to do with the 6-4 Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League loss the Panthers had just endured at the hands of the visiting Kerry Park Islanders. Word was starting to break about the VIJHL suspending play until further notice.

“The room went so flat,” said Panthers general-manager and co-owner Pete Zubersky.

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It became official Saturday with the following statement by the VIJHL: “Due to the new restrictions posted by the B.C. public health officer and the information supplied by B.C. Hockey, the league has declared all games will be postponed starting [Saturday] while the situation is being evaluated and the league receives instructions to proceed again. Information will be updated as we find out more. To our fans – we appreciate your patience and support during these constantly changing times.”

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s proclamations Thursday, however, did not expressly ban game play. They only restricted travel and brought the number of fans allowed in the rinks from 50 to zero.

Zubersky noted the VIJHL was already restricting travel up-and-down the Island by having teams only playing within their South and North divisions.

“That was right in our sweet spot. We have been pro-active in mitigating risk,” he said.

“There’s only four kilometres between the home rinks of the Saanich Predators [Pearkes Arena] and Victoria Cougars [Archie Browning Sports Centre]. You telling me they can’t play? This is totally frustrating. We have national, provincial and local authorities and none seem to be on the same page. They don’t seem to have it together. Some of the conflicting directions were are receiving from different offices is beyond belief. And it’s the young athletes who are affected.”

ViaSport, the non-profit organization which administers amateur sports in the province, put out a release stating: “We recommend you err on the side of caution and stay close to home for now.”

But viaSport added: “Games, competitions, training and practice, such as those outlined in Phase 3 guidelines, can continue without spectators and restricted to your local community.” Zubersky expressed bewilderment over what he views as nebulous instructions from various authorities. He has been with the Panthers since 1999 in a league which has produced NHLers Jamie and Jordie Benn, Matt Irwin, Adam Cracknell, Ryan O’Byrne and numerous WHL and BCHL juniors, NCAA collegians and AHL/ECHL pros.

Brody Coulter, head coach and general manager of the Victoria Cougars, took the suspension of VIJHL game play in stride.

“These are unusual circumstances and every organization has to be prepared for anything. We knew this was a possibility coming into this season,” said the mentor of the Cougars, who have battled the Campbell River Storm for supremacy in recent seasons in the nine-team VIJHL.

“The safety of the players and team personnel is the most important thing right now. We are hoping to play again this season when it is safe.”

B.C. Hockey CEO Cam Hope of Victoria said his organization is there “to help interpret the health orders” for its various member organizations.

“The VIJHL and Vancouver Island Amateur Hockey Association [whose 17 youth organizations have suspended game play for two weeks] have done a great job of getting ahead of it,” said Hope.

“We’ll all get through this and hopefully it’s just a short pause. The down side is losing the games, but hopefully, they can be made up.”

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