‘It’s an empty feeling’
AMHERST, N.S. – One of the hottest teams heading into the Maritime Junior Hockey League playoffs, the Amherst CIBC Wood Gundy Ramblers, will be left wondering what if as they head into the offseason. The ongoing COVID-19 situation led the Maritime Junior Hockey League’s board of governors to decide March 13 to cancel its playoffs, a day after placing a hold on the post-season. The cancellation coincided with the CJAHL and Hockey Canada’s decision to end amateur hockey because of the virus — wiping out regional championships such as the Fred Page Cup and the Centennial Cup. “It’s a day we’ll remember for a long time, the day sports got shut down,” Ramblers general manager Jeff LeBlanc said. “It’s something we’ll remember forever.” After hosting the 2019 Fred Page Cup last June, the Ramblers brought back a core of players from that team while making several additions over the summer. The club sat in third or fourth place through most of the first part of the regular season before getting hot in late January and into February. Going into the last weeks of the season, the Ramblers had a successful string of games, taking seven of 10 down the stretch and threating the firstplace Yarmouth Mariners before settling into second place and what was supposed to be a first-round series with the Pictou County Weeks Crushers. “It’s heart-breaking to tell you the truth,” LeBlanc said. “I think of the boys that can’t come back, the guys who’ve played their final game in an Amherst Rambler jersey and never really had a chance to say goodbye, guys like Caleb (Rich), Cole (Waugh) and Bradley (Dawe) who have been here for several years. “There are guys like Robbie Burt, who had been injured for the last few weeks but was coming back for the playoffs and Matthew Normore who is also all done now. They never had a chance to showcase themselves in the playoffs. It’s an empty feeling for me as an adult, I can’t imagine what’s going through their minds.” He expected the series against the Crushers to be an exciting one featuring two evenly matched teams, continuing a long-lasting rivalry that included a thrilling seven-game overtime win by the Ramblers three years ago. “There will definitely be a lot of what-ifs. No one likes to lose, but it’s almost better to lose than to go through what we’re going through now,” he said. “The season ended abruptly a day before the playoffs were set to start and there wasn’t anything we could do about it. It’s not something any of us have every experienced before.” As tough as it is, LeBlanc said he “completely understands” the decision by the MHL. When the NBA placed a suspension on its season on March 11 and the NHL and Major League Baseball followed the next day, LeBlanc knew it would only be a matter of time before the MHL followed suit. “As soon as the CHL ceased operation I knew we were next,” he said. “I understand 100 per cent. I know a lot of people are angry, but Hockey Canada made this decision to protect kids from the age of four to 20 years old. When the scientists, the doctors and the people who know are telling you it’s not OK, then it’s not OK. They made the decision based on health and safety and we support that. Making sure the players are safe is what’s most important.” Moving ahead, there are at least 15 players eligible to return for next season including goalies Tyler Caseley, who was shelved after Christmas by shoulder surgery, and Jacob Ward, defencemen Brock Bartholomew, Alex Wynter and Malcome Genge and forwards Stephen Fox, Jason Gallant, Max Boudreau, Aiden MacIntosh, Cole Darrach and more.