Tillsonburg Minor Hockey Inc. players had the opportunity to end their 2020-21 season on a positive note playing two free games on the weekend.
“MNP (Meyers, Norris, Penny) is the weekend sponsor,” said Stephen Gradish, TMHI president.
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“I think it’s just so fantastic that they (MNP) do pride themselves on supporting the smaller communities, being a part of the community, and helping the kids,” said Jacqueline Bailey, TMHI VP administration. “That to me is great.”
COVID-19 rules were still in effect from Friday to Sunday, with 10-player teams, and no more than 25 spectators in a limited area of the stands.
But it was hockey, and the kids loved it.
“Our firm does things differently,” said Jared Bourne, regional managing partner for the Southwestern Ontario region of MNP in an email. “It’s our relationships with one another that are most important.
“When you grow up in the area, you understand the history, the people, and what’s important. It gives you a greater understanding of people’s challenges and what it took for them to get to where they are today. That’s helpful in building relationships and understanding clients’ specific business needs whether they’re looking for accounting, business consulting or tax services.”
Tracey Whelan, vice-president of communications for the minor hockey association, said: “This is our wrap-up weekend event for all of our players that were registered for our (2020-21) season. Given the fact that we were shut down after Christmas, we really wanted to give the kids an opportunity to close out the season…”
“On a positive,” nodded Bailey.
“Absolutely,” said Whelan.
“There have been a lot of families that have been financially affected due to COVID, so we wanted to end the season on a positive vibe so that next year the kids can all come back with a fresh start and have a good feeling about hockey in Tillsonburg,” said Bailey.
“The kids were very excited to get back on the ice,” said Gradish. “We would have loved to offer more, however, as circumstances have it, the board felt that for the health and safety of the children, this was the most appropriate option.”
“The kids are pumped,” said Whelan. “Last weekend, when the kids came back for ice time, you could just see the excitement.”
“There was a real atmosphere like we would see in August and September,” said Gradish. “It was almost like the season starting again.”
As early as January the TMHI executive had started discussing the possibility of a wrap-up event, but it was contingent on landing back in the COVID-19 orange zone. And finding sponsors.
“As long as we were in the orange by March 1st, this is what we were going to do,” said Whelan. “Thankfully that happened, so we were able to plan it. We had a ton of sponsors that allowed us to do this at no additional cost. The kids did not have to pay for any ice time at this part of the year. We did fundraising and sponsors to cover the costs.”
Following OHF regulations, local minor hockey ended in December 2020 after two paid sessions (Sept. 14 to Nov. 15, and Nov. 15 to Dec. 20).
TMHI did it as well as they could, said Gradish.
“Tillsonburg Minor Hockey was probably the envy of most centres in Southern Counties,” he said, noting that for roughly 12 weeks TMHI teams played scheduled games against Ingersoll and had players on the ice twice every week.
“We were very fortunate here in Tillsonburg to have the co-operation of our public health unit and the OMHA.”
On Dec. 26 the provincial lockdown temporarily closed Tillsonburg’s indoor arenas. When Southwestern Public Health region moved to a slightly less restrictive red zone Feb. 16, the arenas reopened, but TMHI did not immediately restart its season.
“The board met in January and we had the discussion… and what had been communicated to us by the Town on ‘rules for opening in red’, it was not going to be financially feasible, nor was it something we were going to be able to organize to open and put players on the ice in red,” said Gradish. “We were not allowed at that point in time to maintain our bubbles, we were going to have to break up all of our teams to get down to the required numbers, so the board made the difficult decision…”
“Specifically, in red, there are only 10 participants allowed on the ice at a time, including coaches,” Whelan noted. “Our teams were made of 10 players, and coach and trainer, so 12.”
Practices are allowed in red, she noted, but you would not be able to have games.
On March 1st, Tillsonburg and the Southwestern Public Health region made the timely decision to move to orange.
“Right on our deadline,” Gradish smiled.
Overall, about 90 per cent of TMHI’s registered players participated in the March 26 to 28 wrap-up.
“I think the total numbers were around 350-ish kids that participated… in all age groups,” said Whelan. “They got to play on the same teams they had at the beginning of the season.”
“The kids are really excited, they’re happy, and I think that was our goal,” said Bailey. “That was our goal for the weekend – make sure the kids have a good experience…”
“And have a positive closure for the season,” nodded Whelan. “Especially since last season was also cancelled abruptly when the pandemic hit.”
Subject to change due to COVID regulations, ice time for next season could be tentatively scheduled in September (with first local tryouts starting about Sept. 28).
“We are also told that the Ontario Hockey Federation is proceeding with 2021-2022 hockey schedule similar to pre-pandemic levels,” said Gradish.
The 2020-21 crtual AGM, with the election of the new TMHI executive board, is Wednesday, April 7, 7 p.m. via a Zoom online meeting. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to request an invitation.
This weekend’s wrap-up event included an earlier ‘Dust Off Your Skates’ practice session (OHF development skates) for every team in the novice to midget age groups leading up to the three-day, two-game season finale.
TMHI was responsible for paying for that ice, but did not want to put that cost on the families.
“MNP sponsored this entire weekend… and the little guys, the IPs (Initiation Program) who played last weekend, and the Dust Off Your Skates sessions were covered by these other sponsors – Hayhoe Homes, Shaw’s Ice Cream, The Country Table (Frozen Food Outlet), mymotors.ca, Stanboni, Premier Equipment Ltd. and Canadian Tire Tillsonburg,” said Bailey.
Mymotors paid for medals for all participating players on the weekend, Whelan noted.
“Just a nice positive to walk away with,” she concluded.