Niagara Predators owner and head coach Robert Turnbull wasn’t surprised when the Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League (GMHL) announced a pause in the schedule until Jan. 27.
With the number of COVID cases increasing in December due to the spread of the omicron variant, four GMHL teams had reported cases that month. A number of games had already been postponed in the league.
And when Turnbull himself tried to book an appointment for his booster shot and realized how long he would have to wait, he felt the writing was on the wall.
“When you see games being rescheduled in other leagues, the OHL (Ontario Hockey League), the OJHL (Ontario Junior A Hockey League),” posits Turnbull, “you know it’s going to happen. I’m disappointed, but I appreciate the fact that it was done to err on the side of safety.”
To date, the Predators have not reported a single case of the virus.
In Ontario, only the OHL, which was assigned ‘elite amateur’ status by the province, and the NHL are currently playing games. Since that announcement was made by the Ontario government on Jan. 3, high level players in other leagues as well as the OUA (Ontario University Athletics) and the OCAA (Ontario Colleges Athletics Association) have been locked out of arenas.
“They’re professionals, they get paid,” Turnbull says of OHL players. “You can’t really compare the OHL to any other junior league in Canada. I sent a letter to the government to protest the decision, but there is a big difference.”
Though OHL players do not receive an actual salary each month, their career and vocation is supported in several ways, and the organization takes care of all costs related to education, transportation, and board. Certain scholarships are also available, and there can be bonuses and reimbursements in the offseason.
The Predators last played on Dec. 19, a 5-3 loss to the North York Renegades on the road. They closed out the first half of the season with 19 wins and 5 losses, sitting in a tie for third place with Durham in the GMHL’s South Division.
The pause in the schedule means that their games against Durham (3), St. George (2), Streetsville (1) and Windsor (1) have been indefinitely postponed.
Turnbull and other GMHL owners met this Tuesday to hammer out a plan for the return to play.
“The games that have been lost between now and Jan. 27, with the exception of a few, will be made up,” Turnbull tells The Local. “The season will now be 38 games (down from 42), practices will be increased for the time lost, and the regular season will be extended until March 1.”
The GMHL playoffs will begin March 2, with a few minor changes that will be hammered out at the next owners’ meeting. The trade and player signing deadline will be extended to Feb. 3.
The plans all depend, of course, on any future announcements by the provincial government. Turnbull expects the Predators’ revised schedule to be posted on the GMHL website within a few days.
General manager Johan Eriksson takes a new job
Johan Eriksson has accepted a new position with Marych Sports Agency as their director of hockey operations in North America and Sweden. His new role includes recruiting, advising, and scouting as well as player placement in those two geographic regions. The European-based agency works with amateur and professional hockey players worldwide.
“He’s worked hard behind the scenes for us,” Turnbull tells The Local. “He’s an excellent scout, and this is a big move, a big promotion for him. He will still scout for the Predators, but he’ll be scouting for everyone moving forward. We look forward to our continued relationship with Johan.”
Turnbull will be assuming most of the day-to-day responsibilities of the general manager’s job, with the help of assistants Connor Shipton and Samantha Marson.
Eriksson moved to Canada from Sweden three years ago as a scout for Swedish hockey teams. In that role he visited arenas in the American Hockey League (AHL) and the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) to report on players being eyed by teams in his homeland.
He spent two seasons as the assistant general manager of the South Muskoka Shield of the GMHL’s Northern Division prior to accepting the GM role with the Predators.
Besides managing the Predators, Eriksson had also been working as a European liaison, player advisor, amateur representative and consultant for Pursuit Hockey Development, a Niagara-based business focused on helping aspiring players reach their goals in the sport.
Henry-Pierre Jayet traded
Swedish forward Henri-Pierre Jayet is moving across the country to B.C. The 21-year-old forward requested a trade to a team out west, and Turnbull swung a deal with the Mackenzie Mountaineers, receiving cash in compensation.
“I think the world of him, he’s a great player,” Turnbull says. “It’s all about helping these kids achieve their dreams.”
Players back home
A few of the Niagara Predators decided to head back home over the holidays, and for some, home means Sweden. Forwards Jesper and Emil Eriksson, as well as defenceman Pontus Madsen, are back with their families there.
“They’re skating on ponds over there,” Turnbull laughs. “They’re committed to coming back here to play. I’m in constant contact with them, their gear is still here, too. Though Pontus asked me to ship his gear to him so that he can skate with his old team to keep in shape.”
Swedish native Alexander Insulander and Georgy Kholmovsky of Russia decided to stay in Canada during the break in play.
Oskar Spinnars Nordin update
Former Predators goaltender Oskar Spinnars Nordin celebrated his 20th birthday on Jan. 9. Since leaving the Predators for the Bismarck Bobcats of the North American Hockey League, he has appeared in six games for his new team. Through 330 minutes in net, he has recorded a 3.63 goals against average, a 0.895 save percentage, and a 2-2-1 record.