There's mixed reaction surrounding the decision to cancel a large tournament that would have seen nearly 200 minor hockey teams from across Canada and the United States descend on Ottawa over the holidays.
On Friday, organizers cancelled the annual Bell Capital Cup for the second year in a row due to concerns about rising COVID-19 case counts and the Omicron variant.
Hockey associations that spoke to CBC said, while parents and players are disappointed the tournament was cancelled and most practices and games have been temporarily suspended in leagues across the region, the most common feedback from parents was gratitude for clear decision-making.
"When associations step up and make that decision, it takes it out of the parents' hands, and they can feel better about it," said Cheryl Cooper, president of the Metcalfe District Hockey Assocation.
The Bell Capital Cup is an annual under-13 tournament that was expected to bring 197 hockey teams to Ottawa from around Canada and the United States this year – including a team from Atlanta – with games scheduled to begin Dec. 28.
Aaron Robinson, chair of the International Hockey Festival board, said the decision was made to protect the health of players, coaches and volunteers.
"The board agreed it wasn't the right time to have the tournament proceed," he said. "To be hopefully part of the solution instead of part of the problem."
Leagues cancel games, practice
The cancellation of the tournament comes as minor hockey associations consider whether to suspend practices and games amid the recent surge in COVID-19 cases across eastern Ontario, driven by the Omicron variant.
Most leagues in the region are suspending play over the holidays with tentative plans to resume early in the new year.
Michael Gendron's 12-year-old son, Gabriel, plays with the Nepean Minor Hockey Raiders. He said although the situation is difficult for kids, he supports it.
"I'm convinced that it's been done for the right reasons," he said. "But it's still a hard pill for the kids to swallow."
Cooper struck a similar balance.
"The hockey community always loses when we don't have kids on the ice," she said. "But I think, again … public safety trumps everything else."
Matthew Klassen, president of the Osgoode Richmond Romans Hockey Association, added the sacrifice now could pay off in the long run.
"I'm worried that if we don't pause it now for the Christmas holidays," he said, "we risk losing hockey for longer."