Junior hockey is back in business in northwestern Ontario.
To be sure, the Superior International Jr. Hockey League has confirmed that is has received approval from Hockey Northwestern Ontario, the Thunder Bay District Health Unit and the Northwestern Health Unit to begin play on a modified basis.
To that end, the SIJHL has set up a slate of exhibition games ahead of an anticipated regular season schedule.
The exhibition schedule will include the expansion Kam River Fighting Walleye facing off against the Thunder Bay North Stars in a series of matches and the Dryden Ice Dogs, Fort Frances Lakers and Red Lake Miners competing in a round robin set of contests.
The SIJHL’s two American teams, the Thief River Falls Norskies and Wisconsin Lumberjacks, have not planned any exhibition matches with each other at this time. They cannot play any of their northwestern Ontario counterparts because of the current United States-Canada border closure.
Darrin Nicholas, the first-year commissioner of the NOJHL, commented on the return to play.
“It’s great to be able to shift the focus for our league back where it belongs – on the ice. We certainly want to thank Hockey Northwestern Ontario for their advocacy and leadership to get us to this point and we remain unified in our commitment to a safe return to hockey,” he relayed.
Nicholas took note of modifications that will be in place as the SIJHL begins its exhibition schedule.
“Our on-ice product will need to be modified under present restrictions to minimize physical contact. As such, this is creating a bit of uncertainty as to how our games will look.
“So not only will an exhibition window afford the league some much-needed time to sort through the various facility issues but it will also allow our players, coaches and officials to get accustomed to our in-game modifications before points start counting in the standings.
“Finally, there is also a sense of optimism within our group that a safe return to competition may pave the way to having restrictions further loosened provided we continue to see relatively low levels of virus activity in our region,” Nicholas added.
The SIJHL exhibition season will begin this Friday.