Steve Robinson only needs to look at the current scoring leaders of the Swift Current Broncos to be reminded of what happened to the 2020/21 Pacific Junior Hockey League season.
Back in January, team captain Michael Farren and rookie Mathew Ward were still members of the Delta Ice Hawks as the club patiently waited for provincial health restrictions to be eased so the PJHL could resume cohort play that was halted in early November. Instead, the pair left to join the Broncos for an abbreviated Western Hockey League season and currently pace the team with 17 points each.
The PJHL campaign never did re-start and the Hawks concluded four straight months of practices at the end of March.
“None of us had gone down that path before so we never knew what was coming every day. It’s just been a load of nothing changing and a lot of talk,” said Robinson, the Ice Hawks head coach and general manager. “It was frustrating because you don’t control it and then you get little hope a couple times that you are going to start play again and that buys you another two weeks. We all want to believe it then something happens on the news next day and then there’s a pit in our stomachs again. It was maybe by February we were all resigned to the reality that it was more unlikely than likely we would be playing.”
Robinson knows he will never see Farren or Ward again in Ice Hawk colours.
Farren is a graduating 20-year-old who was lured to junior “B” in case the WHL didn’t have a season. It gave the Surrey native the opportunity to play alongside his younger brother Conner. Ward, 17, is one of the Broncos’ top young players that also was looking for a competitive option if there was no WHL campaign.
Robinson could still have a significant recruiting tool to attract talent for next season if the Hawks are rewarded the 2022 Cyclone Taylor Cup provincial junior “B” championships after COVID-19 wiped out the 2021 event. The decision will come from BC Hockey in the weeks or even months ahead, depending how quickly the province gets through the pandemic.
Right now, Robinson would be happy if there was even limited cohort play with no fans in the stands come the start of next season.
“Honestly given the current landscape of these variants I am worried about September,” he said.
In the meantime, he has already started twice-weekly skating sessions at Tilbury with prospects that will continue until mid-June. Robinson always has his eye on the bigger picture and the thought long ago that the 2021/22 campaign would be a significant rebuild coming off hosting the Cyclone with 10 graduating 20-year-olds.
“All these kids I early committed to for a full rebuild,” he said. “It’s a lot of South Delta and North Delta (minor) kids coming out to skate as well. This is the time of year to be spending with those kids and hopefully get them tracking towards junior over the next couple of seasons.”
Robinson added he will also be ready to shape his roster accordingly should the 2022 Cyclone Taylor Cup get the greenlight for the Ladner Leisure Centre a year from now.
“It’s definitely will be a adapting on the fly situation,” he added.
The Cyclone Taylor Cup, which features the champions of the PJHL, Kootenay International and Vancouver Island leagues, along with the hosts team, hasn’t been played since the 2018/19 season due to the pandemic.