At least two players have been removed from a club in a junior A hockey league with teams from the U.S. and northwestern Ontario because they aren’t fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the cross-border league’s commissioner.

The Superior International Junior Hockey League (SIJHL), which got underway this past weekend after last year’s season was cancelled due to surging COVID-19 cases, has seven teams travelling in northwestern Ontario and across the border — to Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Earlier in the summer, the league chose not to implement its own vaccine policy for the players, who are aged 20 and younger, commissioner Darrin Nicholas told CBC News, effectively leaving it up to each individual team.

“I believe all of our teams are asking for the vaccination status of the players. They need to have it in order to make sure they’re eligible to cross the border,” he said.

Still, the lack of clear vaccination policy when recruitment for the 2021-2022 season began, as well as for the ensuing training camps and practices, is impacting at least two players from one team in northwestern Ontario.

“I had a call from one of our teams that said, ‘Look, we’ve got a situation where we’ve got unvaccinated players. We’re not comfortable having them around. Is there a policy that says we have to keep them?” Nicholas said.

“The feedback was, ‘No, there is no policy that you have to keep them. They won’t be allowed into our buildings next weekend [come Sept. 22] anyways,'” he said, referring to the Ontario government’s new vaccine policy requiring proof of double vaccination to get into recreational facilities or participate in sporting events.

The league commissioner did not specify the names of the two players or their team, other than it was a Canadian team.

The clubs that make up the SIJHL are:

Dryden GM Ice Dogs. Fort Frances Lakers. Kam River Fighting Walleye. Red Lake Miners. Thief River Falls Norskies. (Minnesota). Thunder Bay North Stars. Wisconsin Lumberjacks. Ontario’s vaccination requirements in effect

For many recreational sports leagues and facilities, the new Ontario rule doesn’t mark much of a change, because they’ve already implemented their own vaccine policies.

Nicholas said the SIJHL struggled to decide what it would do about vaccinations, before ultimately deciding not to implement its own policy, citing the “absence of any provincial direction.”

“We were maybe one of the few leagues that didn’t actually implement a vaccine policy, you know, taking guidance from some of the words that were coming from Premier [Doug] Ford,” said Nicholas.

Ford had rejected the need for a vaccine certificate program for much of the summer, at one point telling reporters he thought it would create a “split society,” before eventually changing course and announcing in September the mandatory vaccination requirements that are now in place.

Cross-border travel a ‘built-in vaccination mandate’

The commissioner said the league just had too many questions around what it would accept as proof of vaccination and how it could verify the vaccination certificate.

“Quite frankly, knowing that we are an international league and that’s going to require players to cross the border — and almost certainly you’d be required to have a vaccination to cross the border — we sort of thought that was a built-in vaccination mandate.”

He said the league felt it didn’t need to put together a vaccination policy “stronger” than what was being mandated by the province in consultation with public health officials, saying to do so would be “a bit of a slap in the face to the experts.”

Meanwhile, the cross-border nature of the international league has affected teams’ recruiting efforts, according to Nicholas, because of vaccination requirements.

“Our U.S.-based teams are struggling to attract players now because of that very thing,” he said. “So it’s costing them some of their potential prospect pool because there’s players that are just choosing to play in other leagues that don’t require them to prove vaccination.”

Nonetheless, the SIJHL commissioner says all players, spectators and team officials will be expected to follow Ontario’s COVID-19 proof of vaccination policies at recreational facilities.

Source From CBC News

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