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PHOTOS: COVID-19 pandemic officially ends Cariboo Hockey’s inaugural season in Prince George

Hockey Canada cancels affiliated leagues, events for rest of 2019-20

12:30 p.m. (March 13)

Hockey Canada has officially cancelled all its sanctioned activities across the country, which includes the remainder of BC Hockey's postseason.

This means Prince George teams within the Cariboo Hockey development system are done for the year.

ORIGINAL STORY

The domino effect continues.

Hockey Canada announced yesterday (March 12) it’s postponing all sanctioned activities due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, including playoffs with affiliates like BC Hockey, which has now put a damper on the seasons of several Prince George minor teams.

Cariboo Hockey was positioned to hunt for many provincial titles in its inaugural year as a six-team northern B.C. development program with some scheduled to either host games or head out on the road this weekend.

Those hopes are now on hold and General Manager Trevor Sprague was forced to deliver the disappointing news to his players in a series of meetings on Thursday.

“It’s probably the worst thing I’ve ever had to do in hockey [...] It’s been pretty emotional for all our staff, pretty emotional for me to be able to hand this down at this point in time, but it’s about everybody’s health,” he said in an interview with PrinceGeorgeMatters while holding back a few tears, realizing the coaches’ and players’ wholehearted dedication could be ending sooner than expected.

“I think the most upsetting thing is the players that are graduating. [Paige] Outhouse, the only one on our female hockey team, Captain [John] Herrington, they don’t get to finish playing the game they love in amateur sport. But now, they can go on to their school or play junior hockey and know that they were part of a great organization and be the alumni of what we’ve been able to do to help them move forward in their careers.”

If this is how the first Cariboo Hockey season ends, Sprague hopes the community recognizes the effort it takes to put together a regionally-focused program set on helping rural athletes reach the next level.

“Our coaching staffs have been outstanding; there’s no other organization in BC Hockey, and probably in Canada, that have the coaching staffs that we have,” he said.

“The character of players that we have and the people that, you know, we’ve made over this last year to come and be good students, good people and, at the end, good hockey players. [...] You’ve got kids that move in to Prince George that are billeted, you know, they’ve spent all that time away from their families, obviously, they’ve had a great time being with their teammates and being with the organization, but even all the hard work that’s gone into it, we want to play for something at the end of the year. We get cheated on that because of a flu. Emotionally, we just want to play.”

With the exception of the North Central Bantam AA Bobcats, who’s season ended on March 1, every club under Cariboo’s umbrella was in the middle of preparing for playoffs.

Sprague understands, however, the global pandemic is spreading and doesn’t want his organization to become another statistic.

“We’ve got to protect the health of our organization, which is the health of our people who are all in it,” he stated.

“Our coaching staffs and our players, and as much as this hasn’t hit us up here in the north as much or at all, it’s still something that’s being dealt with worldwide and we have to follow suit and I agree with the decision.”

Hockey Canada is now one of dozens of sporting organizations, events and tournaments that have either been cancelled altogether, like the 2020 World Women’s Curling Championships in Prince George, or temporarily suspended in hopes COVID-19 will eventually simmer down.

This includes the BCHL, WHL, NHL, NBA, Major League Soccer, National Lacrosse League, the CFL Combines and more.

Sprague says he wasn’t given a window by BC Hockey as to when things could pick up again, but he emphasized the word ‘postponed’ to his players, ensuring them that the year may not be over just yet.

“This just means all our national championships have been put on hold as of right now, so that’s about all the information that I have at this point in time, but to send that out to our two major midget teams and the rest of the organization is pretty tough.”

Players who came to Prince George from out-of-town to don Cougars, Capitals or Bobcats sweaters were advised by Sprague to go home and be with family during this time.

He also reminded them, as per the B.C. government’s instructions, to wash their hands, to not be in large groups and, if they get sick, to stay home.

As of yesterday, there are 53 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the province, six of which are now fully recovered, but none have been reported within the Northern Health authority.

The Prince George Cougars were forced to turn their bus around while en route to Victoria after receiving word the WHL has paused its 2019-20 season.