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Sask Senior Hockey bruised but not beaten by COVID-19 Break

It's been what feels like an eternity but senior hockey in Saskatchewan may be returning in certain parts of the province of Saskatchewan for 2021/2022 and in some it may not. There are 17 teams taking a leave of absence this season so far due to a large variety of reasons ranging from lack of recruitment, covid-19 restrictions, funding, affordable ice, players asking for more money. The list goes on.

In the Highway Hockey league three teams will be taking leave of absence for 2021-2022. The Cupar Canucks, Raymore Rockets and Strasbourg Maroons have notified the HHL in October that they would not be participating this season. Cupar has stated that it is their intention to do more planning and fundraising in hopes of rejoining the HHL for the 2022-2023 season. The HHL will not move forward with three teams for 2021-2022: Bethune Bulldogs, Lumsden Monarchs and Southery Marlins.. HockeySask has informed the HHL that the league cannot continue interlock play with the QVHL if they are going to continue as separate leagues. As such the three HHL clubs have applied to join the Qu’appelle Valley Hockey League for the 2021-22 season so the HHL can continue what has been very successful and exciting interlock play with the QVHL.

The Qu’appelle Valley Hockey League scheduling meeting was November 1st in Balcarres, Saskatchewan. The QVHL is slated to have four returning teams, one taking a leave of absence and 3 new teams joining from the Highway Hockey League to make up a seven team league. The returning clubs are : Balcarres Broncs, Grenfell Spitfires, Milestone Flyers and Odessa/Vibank Bruins. Balgonie Bisons will be taking a leave of absence. The three new teams that will be joining the QVHL after a successful trial interlock with the HHL will be : Bethune Bulldogs, Lumsden Monarchs and Southery Marlins. The new league will go by the name Qu’appelle Valley Highway Hockey League and play an 18 game regular season.

The Sask East Hockey League has released a 14 game schedule for the 2021-22 season. Five teams will make up the SEHL this season, including returning teams from Rocanville, Ituna, Canora and Theodore. New to the league are the Whitewood Orioles. Whitewood was playing in the QVHL for the past few seasons after leaving the Triangle Hockey League for greener pastures. The Moosomin Rangers are headed to the Big Six Hockey League while the Bredenbury Cougars, Esterhazy Flyers, Langenburg Warriors and Hudson Bay Hunters have asked for, and been granted, a one year leave of absence. The season begins on November 12th and wraps on February 6th.

The Big Six hockey league kicks off on November 19th with three games and a new team returning to the league. The Moosomin Rangers will be joining the Big Six for the 2021-22 season after playing in the North Central Hockey League and on and off in the now defunct Triangle Hockey League. Moosomin is the ninth team in the Big Six Hockey League which includes : Bienfait Coalers, Carlyle Cougars, Carnduff Devils, Midale Mustangs, Oxbox Huskies, Redvers Rockets, Wawota Flyers and Yellow Grass Wheat Kings. Both the Arcola Combines and the Kipling Oil Kings are taking a year leave of absence.

Let's head down south to the Notekeu Hockey League, ah yes, the NHL….sorta. The Notekeu Hockey League will have five teams for 2021-22. These include : Assiniboia Rebels, Coronach Merchants, Hodgeville Huskies, Glentworth Thunder, Gravelbourg Hornets. The Mossbank Blades will be taking the year off, and there is no sign of the Rockglen Nitehawks. The season kicks off on November 12th. This will be the final year for the Assiniboia Civic centre on the South side of town. The Rebels will be in the new Civic Centre downtown for 2022-23.

Moving on over to the South West we have the White Mud hockey League which will start the season with five teams for 2021-22. The WMHL will play a 12 game regular season. These teams will be : Cabri Bulldogs, Frontier Flyers, Gull Lake Greyhounds, Maple Creek Hawks and the Shaunavon Badgers. The WMHL welcomes back the Maple Creek Hawks after taking a one year leave of absence in 2019/20. The WMHL kicks off on Friday November 19th in Maple Creek with the Hawks hosting the Badgers at the Maple Creek Community Arena.

This year the Sask West Hockey League is looking strong with eight teams competing in the 14 game 2021/22 regular season. These include : Biggar Nationals, Edam 3 Stars, Hafford Hawks, Kerrobert Tigers, Kindersley Klippers, Macklin Mohawks, Unity Miners and the Wilkie Outlaws. Two clubs will be taking a second season off to regroup. These include the Eatonia Huskies and Luseland Mallards. The SWHL season kicks off on Friday November 12th In Macklin where the Unity Miners are in town to take on the Mohawks at 8:30pm.

Onto the Sask Valley Hockey League, as one of Saskatchewan's largest Open Senior Hockey leagues the SVHL will ice ten teams this season in the West Central part of the province. These will include : Central Butte Flyers, Eston Ramblers, Delisle Bruins, Dinsmore Dynamos, Kenaston Blizzards, Kyle Elks, Loreburn 19ers, Lucky Lake Lakers and the Outlook Ice Hawks. The 2021-22 season has already started with Kenaston, Eston and Central Butte off to undefeated starts.

The Sask Alta Hockey League will play a 16 game regular season for 2021/22 and will boast nine teams and two divisions. In the West Division there are four teams from Alberta : Dewberry Mustangs, Wainwright Rustlers, Two Hill Longhorns and the Elk Point Elks. In the East Division there are five teams : Hillmond Hitmen, Lashburn Flyers, St. Walberg Eagles, Paradise HIll Hawks and the Meadow Lake Broncos. The Kitscoty Monarchs and Paradise Valley Jets are taking a leave of absence for 2021/22. The Maidstone Jets have left the league to join the Saskatchewan Prairie Hockey League.

In the Saskatchewan Prairie Hockey League the Glaslyn North Stars have taken a one year leave of absence. The Maidstone Jets have joined the league from the Sask Alta Hockey League and the Perdue Pirates are back from their one year leave. They will be joining seven other teams to play a 14 game regular season. The SPHL will feature the following teams for 2021/22 : Battlefords Beaver Blues, Maidstone Jets, Maymont Settlers, Meota Combines, Perdue Pirates, Radisson Wheat Kings, Spiritwood Timberwolves and the Turtleford Tigers. The SPHL regular season starts on Saturday November 12th in North Battleford at the ACC with the Meota Combines playing a home game against Spiritwood in North Battleford at 8:00pm.

Saskatchewan’s largest open senior men’s hockey league is the Twin Rivers Hockey League in the Saskatoon/Prince Albert Metro Areas. The TRHL will ice ten teams for the 2021/22 season for a 18 game regular season which began October 29th with the Cudworth Tricky Maroons squeaking by the Warman Wildcats by a score of 3-2 at the Legends Centre in Warman. The ten teams in the TRHL for 2021/22 are : Allan Flames, Birch Hills Blackhawks, Clavet Cougars, Cudworth Tricky Maroons, Dalmeny Sabres, Hague Royals, Shellbrook Silvertips, Waldheim Warriors and Warman Wildcats. The Aberdeen Knights are taking a leave of absence for the season.

The Wheatland Hockey League will be down one team this season as the Jansen Jets have requested and been granted a one year leave of absence from the WLHL leaving the league with seven clubs for 2021/22 which include : Craik Warriors, Wadena Wildcats, Hanley Huskies, Naicam Vikings, Tisdale Ramblers, Kinistino Tigers and the Porcupine Plain Blues. The schedule will be changed slightly by removing Jansen. Tisdale Ramblers and Wadena Wildcats, Craik Warriors and Hanley Huskies will play another game versus each other. Each team will play a 16 game regular season and the first game was on Monday November 5th in Hanley as the Huskies lost to Craik in the season opener.

The Long Lake Hockey League is also down a squad this season with the LeRoy Braves taking the year off to regroup for next season. This leaves six teams in the LLHL which includes : Drake Canucks, Davidson Cyclones, Foam Lake Flyers, Lanigan Pirates, Watrous Winterhawks and the Wynyard Monarchs. The LLHL will play a 15 game season this year with the season opener hitting the ice Saturday November 13th with Watrous playing host to Lanigan at the Watrous Centennial Arena.

The Saskatchewan Treaty Hockey League is Saskatchewan’s largest closed senior men’s hockey league which is open to First Nation players only and is slated to take to the ice this season with two divisions featuring a combined total of 15 teams from across the province. The A division will include : Beardy’s Blackhawks, Big River, Cote Selects, Gordon Hawks, La Ronge 89ers, Ochapowace Thunder, Onion Lake Border Chiefs, PBCN Stars and the Waterhen Blues. The B division will include Cumberland House, Makwa Sahgaiehcan, Muskeg Lake Blades, Onion Lake, Red Earth and Shoal Lake. At the date of publishing there has yet to be a schedule released for the 2021/22 regular season.

On the whole, Saskatchewan Senior hockey took a drastic hit his year with 17 teams and counting either folding or taking a year to regroup as many players have decided against playing this year due to the Saskatchewan Government’s restrictions and precautions in place involving vaccine status or hesitancy to possibly being exposed to the virus and possibly spreading it to vulnerable friends and family. Others just want more money to play.

Saskatchewan Senior Hockey is a different animal than it was 20 years ago. The quality of players has improved, there is no question about that. Decades ago your average senior hockey player came right from your local minor hockey associations and maybe played as high as U18 AA or Junior B. These days the average player for example in the QVHL has at least one season of Junior A, Major Junior, Minor Pro or College under their belt before making their way to a Senior Mens league in Saskatchewan. This is good, however we now have what resembles a collection of minor pro leagues scattered across the province and the biggest purse seems to net the best players due to restrictions on offering contracts longer than one season. Today’s players also have more knowledge when it comes to brain injuries and mental health which in turn has made many players returning home from Minor Pro, Major Junior or College hockey to value their skills and safety more than in years past, therefore increasing the want to get paid to play. From my research at the Senior A & B levels in Saskatchewan only approx. 20% of the players province wide draw a salary or pay cheque of any size. Currently the average player within this 20% is paid $100 per game with some players grabbing higher price tags into the $400 to $600 per game range. The highest paid salaries are about on par with the lowest paid salary in the East Coast Hockey League where teams are required in 2021-22 to pay rookie players a minimum salary of $500 per week and returning players a minimum salary of $545 per week. That's if they played the same amount of games.

The average Saskatchewan Senior Men's league plays 12-18 games a season or 1.11 games per week with the bottom of the paid players making between $1200-$1800 per season or $100 per game. Average that out across the whole roster and it's roughly $25 per game per player, which is less than minimum wage ($11.80/hr) in the province.

In the ECHL, each club plays 72 games. This amounts to 2.57 games per week or approx. 10 games per month, making the average rookie salary in the ECHL roughly $200 per regular season game or $14,400 per season.

Move one league level down to the Southern Professional Hockey League, where these clubs pay their players between 4,200 and $14,000 per season for 58 regular season games. Making the lowest paid player $72.41 per game.

Last but not least the Federal Prospects Hockey League, the FPHL is a seven team professional league in Eastern United States of America and is considered the lowest ranked Minor Pro Hockey League where players are getting paid as low as $150 per week to play a 56 game regular season. That's 2.33 games a week at $73.89 per game.

All four leagues draw players from the same Junior and College programs across North America so what is the difference and why aren’t they paid the same? That answer is simple, fans and eyeballs.

The ECHL averages 5,178 with the highest being the Fort Wayne Komets at 8,090 per game in 2019-20. With a low end adult ticket going for $14 per game that's a projected revenue of $113,260 per game.

The SPHL has an average attendance of 3,248 per game. With a low end ticket going for $17 per game that’s an average revenue per game of $58,464.

The FPHL has an average of 1,699 fans per game with the lowest being the Battle Creek Rumble Bees at 353 fans per game and the highest being the Columbus River Dragons with an average of 3046 fans per game. With a low end single game ticket coming in at $10 the league average revenue per game is $16,995.

Most Saskatchewan Senior Hockey clubs average 300 fans, yes three zero zero. With an average ticket price of $10 doesn’t leave much salary room at a mere $3000 per game.

This has been the status quo for years for some clubs, but not every team can afford a ringer from Winnipeg or Calgary that flies in just to play home games. A lot of the teams in C and D categories still resemble what senior hockey once was decades ago, local hockey with local unpaid players, sponsored by the community. The moral of the story is, you get what you pay for and if you want the quality of play in Saskatchewan to grow or stay where it is you will need to feed it properly. Unfortunately this might mean many teams will go hungry in today's economy so to speak.

Down to the brass tacks you need butts in the seats, ears listening on the radio or eyeballs on the screen to get salaries inline with other leagues of similar caliber across North America or Europe and the players will stay.

I wish everyone luck this season and I will see most of you at a rink somewhere in snowy Saskatchewan this winter.

SD Schneider

SNN Sunday Night Hockey



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