Regina Pats defenceman Libor Hajek (3) fights for control of the puck with WHL Swift Current Broncos forward Tanner Nagel (25) during third period Memorial Cup action in Regina on Wednesday, May, 23, 2018. Western Hockey League teams need at least 50 per cent of their fans in their arenas next season in order to operate, according to the league commissioner. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Saskatchewan gives $4M to junior hockey after extending ban on team sports

REGINA — The Saskatchewan government is giving $4 million to help junior hockey leagues and teams that have had their play interrupted by provincial health restrictions.

It says it will send $1 million to support the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and $600,000 will go to each of the province’s five Western Hockey League teams.

The Ministry of Trade and Export Development says the cash will help them cover revenue losses and ensure teams survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the province’s public health order, athletes who are 18 and younger can practise or train in small groups, but team sports are banned.

The SJHL suspended its season in late November after the ban was announced, and says a return to play likely won’t be decided until after today.

The WHL has said it was committed to playing a 2020-21 season, but potential start dates were undecided.

“Our junior hockey teams are a critical part of the cultural fabric and local economies across the province,” Trade and Export Development Minister Jeremy Harrison said in a statement Friday.

“Necessary restrictions due to COVID-19 have had a significant impact on these leagues and their teams and this support will help them address these financial challenges.”

The Saskatchewan Party government says it’s working with both leagues on options for a safe return to play. The public-health restrictions are to expire Jan. 29.

Earlier this week, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer raised the possibility that harsher restrictions could be on the way if the province doesn’t lower its daily COVID-19 case count.

Dr. Saqib Shahab said the current average of more than 300 new daily infections is too high, and top Saskatchewan Health Authority officials also warned that the health system is at its most fragile yet in the pandemic.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 15, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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