Welland decides to spend junior B season on the sidelines
The need to contain the spread of COVID-19 has prompted junior B hockey’s Welland Jr. Canadians to take a year’s leave of absence.
Team owner Lou Savona’s request to sit out the 2020-21 Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League season was approved by the league’s board of governors in a meeting Tuesday night.
Savona, who is also the Jr. Canadians general manager, declined further comment until after an official announcement is released by the league.
In a written request to commissioner Mark Turk that was dated Monday, Savona said the team made the “difficult decision” to take a year off to “ensure the health and safety of the community, our players, employees and volunteers.”
“Public health officials continue to advise that social distancing is the most effective strategy to prevent the spread of the virus,” Savona wrote.
He said the Jr. Canadians, who are among six teams in the league’s Golden Horseshoe Conference based in Niagara Region, intend to return for the 2021-22 season.
They are the second team in the conference to receive a leave of absence since the pandemic cancelled the remainder of the junior B playoffs, including the Sutherland Cup championship, in mid-march. Also spending next season on the sidelines are the Buffalo Regals, the league’s only team in the United States.
Niagara Falls Canucks owner-head coach Frank Pietrangelo, Pelham Panthers owner Tim Toffolo and St. Catharines Falcons general manager Frank Girhiny said Wednesday they are not reconsidering their plans to play in 2020-21 in the wake of Welland’s decision to take a year off.
Junior B hockey hopes to play a 44-game regular season, down six games from past years, beginning Dec. 2.
“I don’t really have much to say on the Welland decision. They have the right to do as they wish, and we look forward to seeing them the following season,” Pietrangelo said. “It’s unchartered waters, so we’re all just doing the best we can, as safely as we can, adhering to provincial, municipal and Hockey Canada guidelines.”
The revenue-driven league is lobbying the Ontario government to allow teams to play to 30 per cent of arena capacity. A message left with Tuck on where the league is in those efforts has yet to be returned.
Welland has been a charter member of the Golden Horseshoe junior B league since 197980 when it won the league championship.
The Welland Jr. Canadians are the second GOJHL franchise to receive a year’s leave of absence for the 2020-21 season.