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PJHL holds back plans to start hockey season


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by Sylene Argent

Battling social distancing restrictions, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the Provincial Junior Hockey League (PJHL) had targeted February 1 to resume play on the ice, however, current lockdown measures have halted that plan.

  Danny Anger, Head Coach of the Essex 73’s, commented on the Provincial government’s restrictions; “We, like everyone else, can’t do anything right now. We can’t do much.”

  He said it looks like the local hockey team’s season may even get cancelled. The only way he could see something happening, would be at the end-of-March. And, he suspects it would be a month to a month-and-a-half long season, where the team would play maybe ten games before being ushered into a shortened playoff tournament.

   Those involved with the 73’s have been hosting Zoom calls to everyone to keep communication going. As for planning for on-ice play, not much has been done, as the team is waiting to get the go-ahead. Most of the players are working out in the meantime, in anticipation of a possible future puck drop. The team has also set up some training guides for the rookie players.

  Outside of losing the season to date, Anger said the restrictions have actually brought the management and coaching staff together. “It forced us to communicate in ways we had never done before,” he said, including through online chats and planning in general through the pandemic.

  The new General Manager has been outstanding, Anger said. “Mike [Pailey] has done a great job. He is a great communicator. It is nice to have everyone on the same page.”

  Anger said he feels for the over-agers on the team, as they watch their final season in the league slip by them. “I’ve become close to a couple of them. It is hard for them. You play your whole hockey career for your last over-age year, or your last year in junior [hockey]. Unfortunately, you might not be able to play it,” Anger said, adding he believes there has been some talk in the PJHL to try and figure out a way to allow 22-year-olds to play. Nothing is set in stone, but discussions have taken place around that subject.    

  Everyone, not just the over-agers, are losing a season, Anger said. “The whole hockey community is affected by it.”

  In July and August, the 73’s were able to host skill sessions on the ice. Into September and October, a mini training camp was held, where 20 to 25 guys were allowed on the ice to do drills, so the staff could evaluate player progress. At that time, modified games were allowed to be held without body contact within the team’s roster. If the region had not gone into the “red” zone of the Ontario government’s reopening plan, Anger suspects they would have been about two weeks away from being able to hold exhibition games against other teams.

  “It is unfortunate, because our team was in great shape. We were working extremely hard. We were really looking forward to starting something, and then it is almost like, abruptly, we were not even allowed to be around each other, we couldn’t be on the ice. That was tough,” Anger said.

  From the season the local team had last year, to this year, Anger said he thinks Essex was in a good spot with the older and younger players, in addition to potential recruits.

  “I think Essex fans and the Essex community are going to have some really bright years ahead of them, where things can get back to the old days,” he said.