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

Nelson Leafs coach disappointed by province after KIJHL season scrapped

Mario DiBella says he wishes health orders had been handled differently

Nelson Leafs head coach Mario DiBella says he’s disappointed for his team after the KIJHL cancelled its season.

League commissioner Jeff Dubois said in a statement released Saturday the season would be called off after provincial health orders restricting recreation were extended Friday through at least the end of February.

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.”

The Leafs had played just three games in November, and won them all, before their season was cut short.

DiBella criticized the province for what he described as “teasing” hockey organizations without ever providing a clear path to putting skates back on the ice.

“It’s just unfortunate that the only groups that were compliant are the ones that are being hurt by the orders,” he said. “We did everything that we were asked to do.”

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.

The end of the season is particularly costly the the Leafs, who looked terrific through three games.

Nelson also looked like a championship contender last season when the provincial lockdown in March 2020 forced the league to suspend the season in the middle of the playoffs.

DiBella said he thought 18 more regular season games this month should have been possible. Instead, he said his players are losing precious time to play during their junior hockey careers.

“Two of those four years were taken from them, and they did their best to comply to enable things to get back to normal. … I’m really just numb to what’s taken place and how responsible people are supposedly making rules that are affecting youth and community.”

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.”

@tyler_harper | tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

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