After months of keeping a close eye on public health restrictions, and a disappointing cancellation to the 2020-2021 Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League season in April, the GOJHL announced in June the return of competitive play – with a slated kick-off for the upcoming season on Friday, Sept. 24.
Calling the news an “incredible, incredible relief” for the young men of the KW Siskins, team President Curtis Clairmont spoke with 570 NEWS as to the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has brought for the non-profit Junior B team, and the optimistic look ahead.
Speaking as a guest on the Mike Farwell Show, Clairmont said the KW Siskins and the hardworking volunteers that support the team are feeling a strong sense of optimism heading into the September start date for the regular season, as he noted that the last 16 months of the pandemic have been particularly difficult for the young athletes that make up the team’s roster.
“It’s very hard for these young men to not have had the comradery of their friends, the mental release of the physical activity that goes on with an elite sport like junior hockey,” said Clairmont. “It’s affected a lot of these young men.”
“The fact that it’s coming to an end is an incredible, incredible relief for them.”
While players and teams of the league had held out hope in salvaging the 2020-21 season in some form, Clairmont said to see the effort not pan out was “very frustrating,” though he noted that the team made the best of the resources they had available to them to continue with on-ice practice.
“We did skate a lot – I think more than any other team in this area; we were on the ice up to six times a week at times. What really inspired me was… this was all based on the boys and them wanting to do it,” said Clairmont. "They needed it and they still wanted to do it – even though at times it became more or less obvious that we certainly wouldn’t have a season as we would traditionally know it.”
When asked about the state of the Kitchener-Waterloo Siskins team ahead of the upcoming season, Clairmont said he expects to have a “contending team” this year as the defending Sutherland Cup champions. With a pre-season start set for August 21, Clairmont said the team already has a scheduled tournament in Niagara Falls in late August – as he said the start of the season is coming “quite quickly.”
From the perspective of finances, however, Clairmont admitted that the non-profit, volunteer driven organization still relies on the support of the Kitchener-Waterloo community at large, currently experiencing a “revenue shortfall” with some historic sponsors yet to return. With plenty of opportunity for advertisement still available for the upcoming season, Clairmont encouraged companies that have “faired okay or well through the pandemic” to consider joining the existing sponsorship group to support the team.
An ongoing conversation in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League, Clairmont also said he’s optimistic that the league will be officially recognized as Junior A this year – as he argued that the GOJHL has been Junior A “all along” – the highest level of hockey competition in the area for some time.
“As a league, we’re united in what we want for our players, our community and our fans. We want the recognition of something I believe we’ve always had. We are Junior A hockey. We are the highest level of hockey – we have 70 thousand hockey players in our footprint and have been denied the status that goes with that A moniker.”
“We’re united – and I’m confident we’ll be Junior A this season.”