Pulling plug on Manitoba hockey tournament ‘right thing to do’ amid rising COVID-19 cases: league president

Around 200 young hockey players won’t get to hit the ice this weekend, after officials with the Springfield Minor Hockey Association pulled the plug on a tournament amid a growing COVID-19 caseload in the Manitoba community.

As of Wednesday, the Springfield health district, just east of Winnipeg, had 39 active cases — 15 of which are among people in the area’s hockey community, association president Cory Nakamura said Thursday.

Many more close contacts are self-isolating, he said.

There is no indication that any of those cases had been spread through hockey activities, but Nakamura said the increase brought a sense of unease to some people involved with a Springfield Minor Hockey Association tournament scheduled for the weekend.

Four teams soon dropped out, as did about half the Oakbank-area league’s volunteers, who said they wouldn’t be comfortable coming out for their shifts. That left organizers short on people to even run the tournament, he said.

“The tournament board just felt like it was probably the right thing to do, just to close it down,” he said.

“And we didn’t want anything happening to any of the kids because their safety is the main priority here.”

The tournament would have seen about 20 teams of seven- and eight-year-olds, including 13 from outside the area, gather for games this weekend, Nakamura said. Even more would have come out for an under-seven jamboree the following weekend.

Under Manitoba’s current public health orders, sporting events like hockey tournaments are allowed as long as everyone 18 and up is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

But considering the nature of a rural hockey tournament — including raffles and other activities happening alongside consecutive games, with hundreds of unvaccinated kids in attendance — tournament organizers decided to be proactive, Nakamura said.

“That’s one thing about having a rural tournament is having a lot of … friends and families and kids and neighbours hanging around and enjoying themselves,” he said.

“We figured that would be not a really good idea to have that going on.”

The tournament would have been the organization’s first during the pandemic. And while the response from parents has been positive, the decision to cancel it was still difficult to make, Nakamura said.

“It wasn’t an easy call,” he said.

“You see the looks on the kids’ faces when they’re on the ice and they’re just having a great time.”

For now, tournament organizers are looking into possibly rescheduling the event for later in the year, but details haven’t been figured out yet, Nakamura said.

“We’re kind of waiting, I guess, to see where the numbers are.”

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