The Provincial Junior Hockey League has officially cancelled the 2020/21 season.
Officials with the Orillia Terriers Jr. C hockey club was disappointed when they heard the news, but not surprised.
“At the end of the day, we knew it was coming, especially with this latest shutdown,” said Terriers head coach Dallyn Telford.
“As a group now we’ve been off the ice for a few months so with the timing and the fact that it’s April, we knew it was coming."
Now the team will turn its focus to preparing for the 2021/22 season, which will be a challenge for players after a lost year.
“It’s hard for guys at all levels, guys going into the NHL draft to guys going into novice, everybody has lost a year of development,” Telford said.
“It’s going to take some time to get back to where we were. A year off the ice without competition is going to show," he said.
“The hockey product down the road two to three years from now will not be as strong as it would have been if we had this year of development,” he said.
While losing the season is disappointing for everybody, Telford especially feels for the players who lost their final year of eligibility to play junior hockey. The Terriers had four players on their roster this year who will be unable to return next year because of the age restrictions.
“These are guys who have been playing junior hockey for five years, and it’s a special year when you are 21 playing in your last year,” Telford explained.
"I’ve seen over agers win championships and realize it’s all come together in winning the whole thing, and now I’ve seen guys this year who’ve had it all pulled from underneath them, I really feel for those guys," said the bench boss.
For many over-aged players at the Jr. C level, this would have been the last year of their competitive hockey career.
“There is the odd guy who will go overseas and play for a couple of years, but for the most part that’s it,” Telford said.
“They finish their schooling, enter the workforce, and sort of enter real life. So it’s a special year for a 21-year-old, It’s a chance to be leaders in the dressing room and in the community,”
The Terriers are now hopeful they will be able to return to the ice in August for their annual summer camp.
“We will invite a bunch of kids to camp, and we will hope that everything is at least reasonably normal by then, and we can get guys on the ice and start preparing for a season,” Telford said.
While Terriers management remains hopeful for a return to action later this summer, uncertainty still looms within the organization and most of the sports world. Making roster decisions and getting players back into action when the time comes is going to be a challenge that has never before been faced, Telford says.
“The last time we saw some of these guys play was over a year and a half ago, so we will have to try and base our decisions off of that, it’s going to be tough,” he said.
Until hockey can resume, Telford and the Terriers will keep dreaming of what it will be like when the puck finally drops on a new season.
“It gives me goosebumps thinking about it. The last experience we have of Orillia junior hockey was us getting eliminated in Game 6, but it was a packed house, it was loud, there were lots of kids there, it’s so much fun to play in Orillia,” Telford says.
“I know that was the biggest thing the younger kids on our team were looking forward to experiencing, even guys we acquired from trades, that was one of the reasons they wanted to come here, because of the atmosphere at our rink.”
Telford hopes that once junior hockey action finally returns to the Orillia, support returns - in spades.
“If there is one thing this pandemic has taught us, it’s to not take things for granted. The things you are used to doing every day have been taken away, and when you go without them for so long you really appreciate them,” he said.
“I really appreciate walking down the tunnel at Rotary two hours before a game, doing a line-up card, talking to the guys, going for warm-up, the people in the building, all those little things… We miss it so much, so we really have our fingers crossed that come the fall we will be back at it,” he said.