The Nelson Leafs’ season has been cancelled by the KIJHL due to the coronavirus outbreak.
One day after the league’s playoff games were suspended, the KIJHL said in a statement Friday it was going one step further and ending the season entirely. The league said it had been advised by Hockey Canada and BC Hockey the season will not resume at a later date.
“This decision was made with the health and safety of our players, coaches, volunteers, billets and fans as the sole consideration,” read the statement.
“We share your disappointment at this news, and thank all those who contributed to an exciting and entertaining 2019-20 hockey season.”
Leafs head coach Mario DiBella said the news will be difficult to hear for not just his players, but every team still competing.
“My heart goes out to the players who won’t get that opportunity to otherwise win their dreams of winning a championship, whether that is the Nelson Leafs or the 100 Mile House Wranglers or the Revelstoke Grizzlies or whoever might have fallen into that category,” said DiBella.
“To have that opportunity stripped away is devastating for those young players and it tarnishes what was otherwise a great season for a lot of individuals.”
The announcement ends what was turning out to be a strong playoff run by the Leafs.
Nelson swept the Spokane Braves in the first round, and stunned the Beaver Valley Nitehawks by taking the first two games of the Neil Murdoch Division final in Fruitvale where the Leafs outscored their rivals 11-0.
But DiBella said hockey shouldn’t be prioritized over public health.
“In as much as you think this is disappointing, I think about all the families who are affected by the coronavirus and certainly those poor individuals who have been put into a life crisis where choices have to be made about who is going to be saved and who wasn’t.
“So at the end of the day this is just a game and there are a lot people out there with a lot worse circumstances they have to navigate.”
On Thursday afternoon the provincial government banned all events with more than 250 people after it announced 53 cases of COVID-19 and one death. Leafs playoff games have typically included 700 to 1,000 spectators at the Nelson and District Community Complex.
Leafs president Corey Viala said Thursday he supported the KIJHL’s decision to suspend games.
“I think when it comes to the safety of our players and fans and volunteers, it’s important we adhere to what either Hockey Canada or BC Hockey has to put into place,” said Viala. “And if it’s the best thing to do for the community as a whole, I think it’s a good idea.”
The loss of playoff revenue will have a negative impact on the Leafs’ bottom line.
Nelson’s run to the second round last season earned the team $30,914 in gate revenue, while its appearance in the conference final in 2018 brought in $50,648.
Viala said every team in the league will feel an impact, and that it’s a shame the Leafs’ hard work has ended this way.
“The unfortunate part is playoffs are a key component to establish a team financially and that’s what we’ve strived for all year,” he said.
“The coaches have done it, the players have done it and the executive for the Leafs have all geared up for the playoffs. We’re finally getting into that situation where things are coming to fruition and unfortunately things are out of our hands when it comes to cancelling or postponing of the games.”
Other series cancelled include Kimberley against Columbia Valley, Princeton versus Kelowna and Revelstoke facing 100 Mile House.