Jr. C league's nine-game plan in limbo
It could end up being another year of “what could have been” for the South Grenville Rangers. The National Capital Junior Hockey League (NCJHL) has been looking to move forward with a shortened season this winter. About one week before Christmas, the Jr. C circuit announced that it was “hopeful” it would be able to open a nine-game regular season – with no body contact – on the first weekend of February; the season would be followed by playoffs. However, the 10-team league that includes the Rangers and Morrisburg Lions acknowledged at the time that the return-to-hockey plan would be subject to the lifting of COVID restrictions. The NCJHL indicated it would make a final announcement about the season on Jan. 12, which was Tuesday. However, the provincial government indicated on Tuesday that a stay-at-home order would take effect on Thursday and continue for four weeks until Feb. 11. In a short statement posted on the NCJHL website on Thursday morning, the league noted that the government “has closed all arenas in Ontario … for 28 days. Unfortunately, the NCJHL must abide by these rules. Stay Safe everyone!” Most arenas in Southern Ontario had already been idled by a four-week lockdown that took effect on Boxing Day. Nine of the league’s 10 teams are based in Ontario. The Jr. C league had indicated in late August that it was planning to start the season on Dec. 1. That got pushed back to Jan. 8, and then the league announced on Dec. 19 that it would not be able to proceed with that date and with an 18-game season because of COVID measures imposed by the province. Last year’s regular season consisted of 34 games. South Grenville had the best record in the NCJHL in 2019-2020 and was up 2-0 in its semi-final series when the pandemic forced the cancellation of the playoffs and all hockey activities. The Rangers had been conducting practices from late summer until the Christmas break and holding in-house exhibition scrimmages at Ingredion Centre in Cardinal. The Recorder and Times reached out to South Grenville GM Lucas Stitt on Thursday morning but had not received a response when this article was published. Jr. A and Jr. B teams in the region had been paired up and playing an extended series of no-body-contact scrimmages throughout the fall as they also awaited the green light to proceed with their regular seasons.