Cancelled season ‘inevitable’  | Mayerthorpe Freelancer


It came as no surprise.

In fact, the head coach of the highly-successful Sault College Cougars men’s hockey team used the word “inevitable.”

Mike Hall was reacting to Thursday’s news his club, and the school’s women’s team, coached by Brianne Veale, would not operate during the 2020-2021 season.

Both teams compete in the United States-based, American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA).

“It’s disappointing, but we’re very understanding of the situation,” added Hall, when asked about the decision not to ice teams due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We tried hanging on as long as we could. Unfortunately, the numbers (of cases) in Canada and the United States are going the wrong way. As well, the border being closed is a big issue. This was inevitable.”

The border separating Canada and the United States has been closed since March, with no indication as to when it might reopen.

“From the beginning, we said if we can do this thing safely, we’ll do it,” said Hall, whose club won the 2018-2019 ACHA Division 3 national championship. “But everyone agrees, including coaches, players, the school, we just can’t find a way to do it safely. We won’t jeopardize  the health and safety of our players, coaches or staff.”

Despite the fact both the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA), which oversees schools such as Sault College, and Ontario University Athletics (OUA), which oversees teams at Algoma University, announced the cancellation of winter sports on Thursday, Cougars hockey isn’t necessarily bound by that decision.

Still, Sault College announced the decision to cancel its men’s and women’s hockey programs at the same time the OCAA and OUA’s decisions were publicized.

According to a release on the school’s website, “in conjunction with the OCAA’s decision. . . Sault College has made the equally difficult decision to cancel our participation in ACHA hockey.”

The Cougars men’s team is the only Canadian entry in the ACHA, while the women’s team is one of three Canadian schools entered.

The release also noted how “the border closure has made US competition basically impossible in the short term.”

Manager of athletics Paul Orazietti noted how the school is “committed to working towards a return to sport once the conditions allow.”

Last March, the Cougars men’s team was four days away from departing for the ACHA’s Division 2 championships in Texas, when the pandemic brought a halt to the season.

Sault College was considered a strong contender for another national crown last spring.

“It’s disappointing for the men,” Hall said of this year’s hockey-free school year. “For a lot of them, this is their last year at college.”

One of them is Sault native Austin Rowe, a star forward on the team.

“I’m obviously bummed. We felt we had a strong returning group with some of the new guys coming in,” Rowe said of this year’s club. “We felt we could have made a strong run in D-2.”

A 22-year-old criminal justice major in his final year at Sault College, Rowe spoke of how “it’s 100 per cent a big loss for me.”

“We were returning 15 or 16 players,” Hall added. “I thought our staff had done a great job recruiting and I think we could have been very, very competitive at the D-2 national championships.”

Star defenceman Kaelan O’Flynn talked about how COVID-19 is costing some players their final season of hockey and, depending on what happens a year from now, possibly their final two seasons.

“Maybe that’s the end of their career,” the Sault native added. “But due to the border situation, it’s really out of our control.”

Asked what he’ll miss most about playing, O’Flynn talked about his relationship with players and staff.

“The thing I’ll miss most is going into the locker room, seeing the brothers – we always had brotherhood – and prepping for weekend games,” he said. “It was a winning atmosphere and a winning culture.”

Hall, who said the ACHA has been “incredible to deal with,” said his team’s decision at this time was in large part based on “being fair to the ACHA and our member teams. We had games scheduled with them for January.”

The coach also said the Cougars will soon resume recruiting for the 2021-2022 campaign, determined to “represent the school well.”

 

 

 



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Cancelled season ‘inevitable’  | Mayerthorpe Freelancer

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