By Mark Squibb | Feb. 25, 2021

Eleven months after junior hockey was unceremoniously cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CBR Junior Renegades roared back in a big way opening weekend, just before play was halted again on Monday because of a coronavirus outbreak in Mount Pearl.

The Renegades notched two back-to-back wins, including a shutout home-opener against the Northeast Junior Eagles Saturday night, February 6.

In the game, which was live streamed on social media, Renegade Tyler Nickson opened the scoring in the first period, and followed up with a second goal in the second period. Noah Parsons scored on a power play, and Aaron Greenham scored the team’s fourth goal of the night. Noah Parsons scored a second goal, the lone marker of the third period.

Nicholas O’Brien played between the pipes for the Renegades, blocking all 10 shots from the Eagles.

The night prior, the Renegades bested the CBN Stars in Bay Roberts 6-2. Nathan Tucker opened the scoring for the Renegades in the first period. Five remaining Renegades goals came courtesy of Nicholas Oake, who scored twice, Aaron Greenham, Aaron Peach, and Nick Gosse with a power play goal. Alex Franey and Braedon Carlson answered back for the Stars. Netminder Jordan Blackwood blocked all but two of the 23 shots against him.

A high level of play is expected from the Renegades.

“We are the defending champions,” executive Kevin Tobin reminded everyone. “Last year they didn’t crown anyone. So, we’re still hanging onto the President’s Cup. The core of our team is the same as last year, and it’s very similar to the team that won the championship two years ago.”

Five players have graduated, including former Captain Blake Fudge, who was chosen as the final selection for #1 of the Ten Best Renegades of the Decade in a recent contest. But Tobin said several key players, including Blackwood, who two years ago was the MVP in the play-offs, and league goal leader Nickson, who notched 31 goals last season, are back.

“We’re happy,” said Tobin. “We’re a hockey team that wants to be on the ice, and we want to be on the ice safely of course, and we’re following all the restrictions.”

Of course, this season is not without additional challenges due to COVD-19.

Due to the most recent outbreak, play has been suspended immediately, with no start-up date yet in sight.

During opening weekend, players, staff, and fans alike faced several pandemic- related challenges.

While in a typical season, hockey teams might say their biggest challenges are struggling with their depth chart, finding which line combos click, or balancing grit and skill, challenges this season include almost empty stadiums and dried-up revenue sources due to the pandemic.

“In our building, we’re only allowed 100 (people). And that’s counting both teams, coaches, officials, parents of some of the players, executives, you name it,” said Tobin. “Nobody can just come in.”

The team is not selling tickets at games, and head counts will be done at the door.

While rules surrounding play are consistent across the league, individual stadiums determine the number of folks allowed inside their buildings.

“Once we got approval, we had to actually approach the rink and the Town of CBS to get approval to practise and play on the ice. So, it wasn’t as simple as the league gets the okay, and boom, all nine teams are going on the ice,” said Tobin.

It goes without saying that a lack of ticket sales results in a lack of revenue.

“You need a big budget to run a junior hockey team, so selling tickets is important to add to your income,” admitted Tobin, who said that, due to restrictions, only about 30 tickets were available for the home opener.

“We’re going to have to operate this year at a loss. All teams are going to be operate at a loss,” said Tobin, who added the Renegades do have major sponsors this season, but due to the quick turnaround (teams hit the ice not even two weeks after the return to play plan was approved) and financial climate, sponsorships are down as well.

Perhaps the biggest adjustment for the players, besides looking up into the near empty, silent stands, is the locker room. The unique pre and post game locker room rituals have been scrapped for this season. The league has adopted a ‘get -in-and-get-out’ policy, and for perhaps the first time in sports history, the dressing room will be used for just that — dressing. Players, spread out over two dressing rooms, get in, gear up, and hit the ice. Following the game, players shuck off their gear and get out. Showers are not permitted at the rink.

It may also be the first time in history a piece of protective gear is required in the locker room but not on the ice; face masks must be worn by players anytime they are off the ice.

In the end, Tobin said the challenges are worth it if it means a safe return to the game players and fans love.

The regular season, if it manages to go ahead given the latest COVID-related setback, will last for 16 games. A play-off format has not yet been decided.

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