Following an inaugural season cut short by COVID-19, the Fredericton Red Wings were in a tight spot. After getting ready for a playoff run by training, selling tickets and putting together marketing, months of preparation went down the drain.
Roger Shannon, the Red Wings’ president and governor, said the team fired its staff when COVID-19 hit because of poor revenue. As a result, the team relied on volunteers to keep going.
“From a team perspective [the cancelled season] was catastrophic,” said Shannon.
For the Red Wings players, missing out on the playoffs was also tough. Players in the Maritime Hockey League are billeted in their team’s market during the season. When COVID-19 hit in early March, the players were sent home.
“Playoffs are what athletes generally play for. You want to enjoy the journey, which is the [regular] season, but at the end of the day, it’s the championships and the playoffs that really motivates [players],” said Shannon.
After the 2019-20 MHL season was cancelled, the Red Wings halted hockey operations and took a community-oriented stance. The team launched their Thank You and Hockey Helps Healers campaigns for frontline workers and joined the MHL’s Nova Scotia Victims Fund.
Shannon was a part of the MHL’s return to play committee, who developed a manual using federal, provincial, and municipal government guidelines that everyone involved in the league’s operations has to follow.
With the different circumstances for this year’s hockey season, many think the level of competition will be low. Shannon thinks the opposite.
“I think the kids are so excited to play hockey and to be a part of it, that they’re actually competing harder. It’s pent up energy, pent up frustration. It’s a combination of a lot of things and I think they want to play so badly that when they step on the ice they play harder,” he said.
Shannon knows that it can be scary for hockey fans to think about getting back to watch games at a rink, but he said the team will be “maniacal” about fan safety. Shannon said he went to Québec league games in Atlantic Canada and they’ve done a good job.
“It seems safe. But you’re only as safe as the people who you know that are attending,” he said.
The Red Wings will be limited to 517 masked fans at the Grant Harvey Centre. Hand sanitizing stations will be places strategically around the arena and other measures will be in place. As for the team, only 26 masked players are allowed on travel buses. The league has already held some exhibition games in other markets.
Shannon believes his team can help the people of Fredericton recover and find hope in the midst of a pandemic.
“The one word for this season is hope. It’s providing hope for the people, hope for the players, hope for the future. We desperately need to get through this and show people that there’s hope.”