Wel­land de­cides to spend ju­nior B sea­son on the side­lines

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - SPORTS - BERND FRANKE RE­GIONAL SPORTS ED­I­TOR Bernd Franke is a St. Catharines-based jour­nal­ist and the re­gional sports ed­i­tor for the Stan­dard, Tri­bune and Re­view. Reach him via email: bernd.franke@ni­a­garadailie­s.com

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.

JULIE JOCSAK TORSTAR FILE PHOTO

The Wel­land Jr. Cana­di­ans are the sec­ond GOJHL fran­chise to re­ceive a year’s leave of ab­sence for the 2020-21 sea­son.

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