They have a new head coach at the helm, and are busy assembling a team, but ongoing COVID-19 regulations may derail the 2021 Lakers' season yet. Ice-in policies could put the start date – or the entire season – in jeopardy.
The Superior International Junior Hockey League (SIJHL) will be holding a meeting at the end of the week to discuss what impacts municipal regulations could have on the season, said Lakers president Gary Silander.
“There are rumours that the season may not even go forward,” he said.
The league is tentatively set to hit the ice November 14, with a training camp in mid-October. But those dates are in flux, noted Silander.
“We're having issues with the arenas, trying to get ice and to meet their credentials to let us in,” he said. “It's a big hornet's nest, and we have no idea which way to turn.”
One of the sticking points is a requirement by many municipal arenas that players arrive dressed, except for skates, helmets and gloves. It's a policy which works for kids being dropped off by parents, but it causes logistical issues for Junior hockey, said Silander.
“We're not talking minor hockey, here. Some of these kids, once they get their shin pads on, they won't be able to drive their cars,” he said.
Fans in the stands are another sticking point. Tight limits or the complete elimination of fans in the stands could end the season, said Silander.
“You need to have people in the stands to pay the bills. We can't just play because we want to play,” he said. “We're hoping things ease up over the next few weeks.”
Even if the season does move ahead, it could look very different. Due to border restrictions, the league will contract to include five Canadian teams, likely made up of entirely Canadian players. The league is welcoming the Kam River Fighting Walleye, added to the roster this year. The remaining teams will be The Dryden Ice Dogs, Red Lake Miners and the Thunder Bay North Stars. The Wisconsin Lumberjacks and Thief River Falls Norskies will sit out this season.
The remaining teams would likely play a 40 to 48 game season, he added.