Appropriately for a junior hockey league in the prairies, there's no quit in the SJHL when it comes to the 2020-21 season. They've put together a team to help communicate their position to the province and coordinate on return-to-play efforts, and the Estevan Bruins will have their voices heard in it.
Bruins head coach and GM Jason Tatarnic is one of four coaches from around the league that make up the task force that communicates with the provincial government. The other three coaches are Scott Barney of the Humboldt Broncos, Doug Johnson of the Nipawin Hawks, and Mike Reagan of the Flin Flon Bombers.
"We had a discussion with the Sask government last Friday," Tatarnic said, "just to see where they're at and kind of pick their brains. So it led to some good discussions. I think we were able to demonstrate or give them some information that they didn't have before about our environment and what a typical day is for our players and how it can be very isolated for them."
In other words, the goal of this group is to explain to the province that the league could return to play in a safe manner and work with health authorities on what that manner might be. The discussion on Friday, according to Tatarnic, led them to several different potential ways forward for the league.
"That's the next step, we'll present an option to them," he said. "Then we'll see what they say. If we have to go back to the drawing board then we will. That's where it's at right now."
Tatarnic could not yet share what those options might look like, but did say they were hoping to present one as soon as possible because of how late in the year it was getting. He also said there were some encouraging signs in that first conversation with the government.
"They were receptive and they had an idea of their own too," he said. "It's good to get some direction that way. I can't speak for other teams, or other governors, or even our league president, but my stance is I'm going to do whatever I can to get a season for these players. I'll exhaust every option that we can."
The coaches presented their case to the province by showing just how well-isolated the players could be. None of the Bruins, for example, are attending school in-person and the league as a whole saw just one case of COVID-19 during the months they were operational. That case did not spread and did not originate in the rink.
"We just talked about a typical day for one of our players," Tatarnic said. "The time that they put in at the arena and how isolated they are, what our travel was like. When we went to away games, we came in contact with a bus driver, when we arrived at the rink we didn't come into contact with anyone. We came into contact with 20 other players and officials, and then we left and we were in contact with whoever was delivering our food, and then we were home."
The SJHL and all other hockey leagues have been prohibited from playing games since November 27. Those public health orders have been extended until February 19 by the province as of yesterday.