Coronavirus: Shortened MJHL season creating recruiting challenges for elite athletes

The Manitoba Junior Hockey League had to put their 2020-2021 season on hold in November when new coronavirus Code Red restrictions went into effect throughout the province.

The unexpected break has some Manitoba athletes wondering if their dreams of playing professional sports can still come true, while coaches in the league are also looking at how this will affect their players.

“We have players that are at various stages of their careers, some are in their first, so they have time on their side, then we have others in their last year,” Steinbach Pistons head coach and general manager, Paul Dyck said. “If they’re playing in their 20-year season — to date, our team has only played seven games this season — it’s a small window where they’ve been able to potentially catch the eyes of an NCAA program.”

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In previous years, scouts from college teams would watch prospective players in person at games. This year, the pandemic has forced the process to shift to digital — something Coach Dyck notes has its downfalls.

“I think you can only do so much through video,” Dyck said. “Personally, I still like to get a live viewing of a player before we commit to them, and I know a lot of the schools feel that way too, that would be their preference. Also though, in this environment we still need to make decisions for the next season, recruiting continues to go on.”

As players age out of the MJHL, their futures are being decided either by recommendations from word of mouth, or by video clips sent to scouts.

Along with challenges in recruiting, Piston staff also note how the team has had to pivot their usual communication with players, adding the mental stress of not knowing when the season is, is hard to deal with for everyone.

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“Well, you feel for the players. I think as a coach we also want to see our players reach their potential and if their desire is to get to the next level, we want that for them. Our job is to provide them with those opportunities and to put them in a position to reach their goals,” Dyck said.

Click to play video 'Answering your COVID-19 questions, Jan. 14' Answering your COVID-19 questions, Jan. 14

Answering your COVID-19 questions, Jan. 14

Players in the league say they’re trying to stay positive and active in their time away from the team.

“I’m just trying to make the most of it by working out and my brothers and I actually built a front yard rink and I’ve just been skating lots as well,” first-year Pistons defenceman Sam Court said. “With me moving to Steinbach this year I didn’t really get to spend too much time with my family because I was living there. It’s been really nice to kind of get back home and just hang out with them, especially over Christmas break.”

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The team is looking forward to the future and hopes the MJHL season will start back up again soon.

“We’re very very hopeful that we can resume our season here and have a meaningful second half and with that, there will be opportunities for our players, there’s no question about it,” Dyck said.

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