MMJHL coach of the year reflects on pandemic-shortened, injury-filled season

Although he says he’s proud of being named the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League (MMJHL)’s coach of the year, this hockey season has been a challenge for Jeff Mitchell of the St. Vital Victorias.

The team was on a roll right when the MMJHL’s season came to a screeching halt due to the coronavirus pandemic, just as the playoffs were set to get underway.

“You’re kind of ramping up for playoffs, you’re getting ready for puck drop in Game 1, and everything just stops completely and the whole world shuts down,” Mitchell told 680 CJOB’s Sports Show.

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“You go from 100 miles a minute to having to sit at home every night and wonder what could’ve been.”

Mitchell said the team was informed about the shutdown minutes before a game was about to start.

“We were actually coming on the ice, the air horn going off… I was walking out to the bench, guys were skating around on the ice, fans were all in the building… and then the ref comes over to me and said, the game’s over. It’s done with.

“He’s just back to work, doing his thing, and hopefully every day (he’ll) see a different improvement, could be big, could be small, but I know he’s motivated.

“We went through a lot of different emotions this year as a team.

“I probably wouldn’t choose a better group to go through those kinds of situations with.

“I can’t speak enough good words about every single player on our team and how they all held together and worked together to keep our season going and our team successful.”

The community, he said, was also a huge support during the difficult time after the injury. Not only through their financial support of fundraisers for Ketler and his family, but in terms of being there for the family and team as well.

“We have parents that were delivering meals every third, fourth, fifth day to the Ketlers’ house to support them, so it was just a little bit easier on them,” he said.

“We’ve had reach-outs from all across Canada… NHL teams, you name it.”

Overall, Mitchell says the coach of the year nod is a big honour, and he credits team management for being so supportive of the players and the coaching staff.

“These past two years I have been head coach, we’ve had nothing but support from our management to run the program we need to be successful.”

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