Newmarket’s renowned Silver Stick tournament finals are being postponed to March due to the surge in COVID-19 omicron variant cases halting minor hockey games.
Tournament organizers announced the move Jan. 2 after the Greater Toronto Hockey League postponed its season through Jan. 12. The long-running tournament was set to go ahead this month, but with Ontario hockey associations halting programming Jan. 5, it could not carry on.
Organizers hope to run the tournament during March Break. Tournament director Murray Taylor said it was a tough decision.
“A lot better than cancelling it,” he said, adding the invitational tournament is hard to get into. “I didn’t want to take away that opportunity for this year’s set of teams that have qualified.”
The latest wave of COVID-19 has prompted the Ontario Minor Hockey Association and Ontario Hockey Federation to pause all programming, including games, practices and training from Jan. 5 until Jan. 27. This comes as the province restricts indoor recreation in the face of record COVID-19 case numbers.
“The OMHA believes in the mental and physical health benefits that hockey offers to our participants. We will continue to provide resources for our players to keep building their skills at home during this time,” the association said in a Jan. 4 news release. “We understand this is a disappointment for everyone at the moment. We want to thank everyone for making hockey their sport of choice this season, and we look forward to returning to the ice as soon as possible."
The invitational Silver Stick tournament has run since 1957, featuring top teams that qualify from both sides of the border. Though COVID-19 prevented any cross-border plans for this year, organizers still planned to go ahead, drawing from more teams in Canada. Newmarket teams are also always able to participate as hosts.
Taylor said the tournament is working with the municipality and St. Andrew’s College to secure ice for the March Break. He said the change may result in some of the 64 teams dropping out, but it cannot be helped.
“There’s a few challenges still, but we’ll get through them. I’m confident we will,” he said.
Taylor is also vice-president of the York-Simcoe Minor Hockey League and said it has been challenging navigating the COVID-19 restrictions and team outbreaks. But he said the efforts of volunteers have been incredible.
Still, he said the game and league cancellations are unfortunate for the players.
“I feel awful for the kids,” he said. “You start to understand quickly how important just the socialization of the boys is; the fact this is their opportunity to see their friends.”
Should COVID-19-related restrictions not lighten by March, Taylor said he does not think he could postpone it beyond March Break, given minor hockey playoffs in the spring.
But he added that hopefully restrictions ease to allow a complete tournament experience. He said he hopes to have an opening ceremony and vendors, which may not have been possible had the tournament run under recent protocols.
“I’m just hopeful we can do it,” he said. “March Break might really work out well … That’s my hope, but we’ll play it by ear.”