A Nelson Leafs player takes a shot on a Beaver Valley Nitehawks goaltender during the 2020 playoffs. The KIJHL announced Saturday it was cancelling the 2020-21 season. Photo: Jim Bailey/Trail Times

A Nelson Leafs player takes a shot on a Beaver Valley Nitehawks goaltender during the 2020 playoffs. The KIJHL announced Saturday it was cancelling the 2020-21 season. Photo: Jim Bailey/Trail Times

KIJHL cancels season due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions

It’s the second straight season the KIJHL has had to shut down prematurely

The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League has cancelled its season after provincial health orders restricting recreation were extended Friday through at least the end of February.

League commissioner Jeff Dubois said in a statement released Saturday that timeline doesn’t work for a league that holds its playoffs in March and early April before arenas throughout B.C. remove ice for the spring and summer.

“We are disappointed for our players, team staff, volunteers, sponsors, game officials and fans that the 2020-21 season will not be completed,” said Dubois. “Over the past number of months we have made every effort possible to keep our athletes on the ice and to give all of them, and especially our graduating 20 year olds, the opportunity to compete for a league championship.”

Dubois said clubs are still allowed to train and he left open a possibility of exhibition games this season, however unlikely that may be as the province tries to contain variants of COVID-19.

“I’d like to thank all of our stakeholders for their patience and understanding during a difficult and challenging season,” said Dubois. “Our athletes and team staff have done a tremendous job of keeping everyone safe, and our billet families deserve special recognition for welcoming players into their homes during this pandemic. We look forward to returning to the ice this fall and getting back to the game we all love.”

The Junior B league barely had a chance to begin play before it was shut down. Some teams, such as the Beaver Valley Nitehawks, opted out of the season before it began, while the Spokane Braves were forced to bow out due to the Canada-United States land border restriction on non-essential travel.

The defending champion Revelstoke Grizzlies meanwhile had already announced their season was over Feb. 1 after members of the team tested positive for COVID-19.

The 17 teams that did play only participated in two-to-four regular season games in November before it was put on a hiatus that ended Saturday.

It’s the second straight season the KIJHL has been forced to cancel play. In March 2020, the provincial lockdown forced the league to suspend the season in the middle of the playoffs.