Island athletes rejoice as sports events return to Manitoulin arenas

If there is a Canadian cultural norm that has taken a huge hit through the pandemic it is hockey. Thankfully the sights and sounds of minor hockey will soon be returning to the ice, although with a much shortened season.

MANITOULIN—The Manitoulin Minor Hockey Association (MMHA) has returned to complete a shortened season, thanks to the cooperation of several local municipalities, First Nations and players and parents themselves.

“The municipalities have agreed to let their arenas remain open longer, and everyone is working together for the kids,” Jackie White, a member of the MMHA hockey executive, told The Expositor last week. She noted that the Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands, Gore Bay, Assiginack and Central Manitoulin approved an MMHA request to leave their arenas open until the end of March.

“And thanks to Greg Lockeyer who redid the schedule, as we had to scrap the old one,” Ms. White told The Expositor. 

“We have teams in every division, which is really good for the situation,” said Ms. White. She explained that the Wiikwemkoong bantam team is playing out of Manitowaning arena in their division, while the rest of the players from the community were playing in an in-house league.

For M’Chigeeng First Nation, all players were released to play on any MMHA team. The M’Chigeeng arena will remain closed again this season. 

In a letter to the four municipalities that have arenas on Manitoulin, dated January 25, the MMHA executive wrote, “Manitoulin Minor Hockey appreciates the patience and dedication shown to our young hockey players as the municipalities did their utmost to put measures in place so we could start our season. I wanted to assure you that when our governing bodies allow hockey to resume, we have a plan ready to roll out that will allow our youth to play for the remainder of the season.” 

“We would respectfully ask that you (municipalities) consider keeping the arenas open until the end of March,” the MMHA letter read. “We have created a schedule that allows for a shortened season but still gives the players some type of playoffs, albeit very different than in the past.”

“MMHA does acknowledge that if it becomes particularly warm in March, that keeping an arena open is cost prohibitive and would then ask if you could confirm going until the end of March break. We will adjust to whatever opportunity the municipalities provide us. Our goal is to keep the kids on the ice having fun as long as possible,” the letter continued. “Mental health and physical exercise for the kids are our primary drivers for trying to proceed with a hockey season and the local associations are looking forward to working with our community partners to provide a positive experience for the kids in these uncertain times.”

The two-month schedule started earlier this month in all age groups: under seven (U7) U9, U11, U13, U15 and U18. 

“Usually in the playoffs, we have series that are best of five,” said Ms. White. “This year we will have one game playoffs.”

“Everyone has been amazing in working together, from team bench staff, coaches, parents, players and communities. Small towns are wonderful,” added Ms. White.