Wings on thin ice to resume season

High Prairie Red Wings have been practising at the Sports Palace since Feb. 8 as skating activities were permitted with a maximum of 10 skaters under COVID-19 restrictions. Soon the team could be without a home if the Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League is allowed to resume the season. However, the Town of High Prairie plans to take out the ice at the end of March.

Richard Froese
South Peace News

If the hockey season for the High Prairie Red Wings is allowed to resume in the next few weeks, plans to play at home could be on thin ice.

The Red Wings may have to leave town if COVID-19 restrictions are eased to allow the team to resume action in the West Division of the Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League.

The Town of High Prairie intends to remove the ice in the Sports Palace around March 31.

“At this point, the plan is to take the ice out at the end of March,” High Prairie Mayor Brian Panasiuk says in an e-mail Feb. 24.

“The decision to remove the ice at the end of March is primarily financial.”

At the end of March, High Prairie Minor Hockey and most other ice users are finished, so revenues are down, he says.

“Expenses go up in the warmer months to keep ice in the arena, so it simply does not make financial sense to keep the ice in past the end of March,” Panasiuk says.

The Town and Big Lakes County share the costs to operate the arena.

A joint recreation committee makes decisions on operations of the recreation facilities, providing they stay within the budgets approved by the councils, he explains.

“If there was a desire to keep ice in longer and this would increase the budget, it would have to go to both councils for approval of the extra funding necessary,” Panasiuk says.

He adds the committee informed Red Wings’ head coach Kevin Hopfner and West Division expansion director Derek Prue that the Town plans to take out the ice at the end of March.

However, Prue is still optimistic that the Town will keep the door open to discuss the request to extend the hockey season in High Prairie.

“As a major ice user, we hope we have the opportunity to further work with the Town to talk about solutions to keep the ice in longer,” Prue says.

“We are considering playing games as late as July 1,” Prue says.

The West Division has also filed an application with Alberta Health Services and the provincial government for a dispensation, an exemption to play, which has also been granted to the Alberta Junior Hockey League and Alberta teams in the Western Hockey League.

He predicts COVID-19 restrictions would allow the West Division teams to resume the season some time in March as daily COVID-19 cases and deaths decline.

Prue also expects to hear an update on restrictions around March 1.

If the Town is firm in its position to take the ice out at the end of March, Prue says the Red Wings may have to play and practise in Slave Lake or Fox Creek.

He says the return of hockey would be a big draw for local hockey fans after almost one year of COVID-19 restrictions lockdowns and minimal community events and sports.

“I would hope the community would jump at the opportunity to rally behind the Red Wings, cheering on the home team,” Prue says.

The Red Wings have played 10 games in a 42-game regular season.

Teams in the West Division last played on Nov. 21.

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