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So what now for the Halifax Mooseheads?
They're back on the sidelines for the better part of the next month after the Nova Scotia government's latest COVID-19 shutdown. The Mooseheads are no different than all other hockey teams around Halifax Regional Municipality, restricted to just practices while we buckle down to try to contain the virus once more.
The Prince Edward Island government also shut down games until March 14 so the Charlottetown Islanders will also take a pause, as will the Cape Breton Eagles because they don't have anyone to play at the moment.
This is the second hiatus of the QMJHL season for the Mooseheads. But compared to the enforced pause back in December and January, head coach J.J. Daigneault said the mood around the team this time is more one of seasoned acceptance than it is dejection and devastation.
"By now, it doesn't really affect the players that much anymore," Daigneault said. "Obviously they would like to play through the month of March but there's been some disappointment and some adversity that we've had to deal with and everyone has adapted. Just playing against Charlottetown and Cape Breton the whole month of February, that was a little bit of adversity but the way we tried to look at it as a team was 'Is this adversity or is it opportunity?'
"I think we see it more as opportunity and we'll see the month of March the same way. It will be an opportunity for us to iron out everything with regards to our system and it's going to be an opportunity for the guys to get in the gym and get stronger and work on conditioning. At the end of the day, I'm hoping it's going to be beneficial for us."
Daigneault even took that outlook one step further with a reminder that the QMJHL is a developmental league. Major junior teams usually play close to 70 regular season games per year, plus a handful more in the pre-season and as many as 30 in the playoffs, depending on how long a run lasts.
"For us, the kids get to go to school and they still get to come to the rink and get better and spend some time with their friends. They still get to do what they enjoy the most in the world. Their passion is hockey and they still get to practise so I think there are a lot of plusses for what we're going to go through in the next month."
- J.J. Daigneault, Mooseheads coach
Compared to leagues like the NCAA that typically schedule 30-40 games per year, the Q does not enjoy quite the same opportunities to practise, teach and train. These are, after all, mostly teenaged players who almost all aspire to be pros. But they need to go through significant growth — physically and mentally — to get to the next levels.
"We're in the teaching business here and the kids need to get better," Daigneault said. "The break in the schedule is not that bad after all. Obviously we'd wish it was just a week but it is what it is. It's a pandemic and there are more cases that are untraced in Nova Scotia so the province had to make a decision.
"So for us, the kids get to go to school and they still get to come to the rink and get better and spend some time with their friends. They still get to do what they enjoy the most in the world. Their passion is hockey and they still get to practise so I think there are a lot of plusses for what we're going to go through in the next month."
But as much as it may not feel like it at the moment, there's a chance the horizon around the QMJHL may hit a high point a few weeks from now. The New Brunswick government just announced the Saint John Sea Dogs, Bathurst Titan and Moncton Wildcats have been approved to play games against each other starting on Monday, so that would be their first action since late November. There are 38 known active cases each in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
If the COVID-19 landscape improves around Nova Scotia and PEI in the next few weeks, it's possible there might even be a return to a fully functioning Maritimes Division, with some fans, by April.
With the vaccine rollout about to gain momentum across Canada in the spring and the Quebec-based teams successfully using the bubble model in the second half, we might get full play across the league again for the first time since the very early days of the season.