The Estevan Strippers have been forced to cancel their annual Molson Spring Bust Tournament – the largest recreation hockey tournament in the province.
The tournament was scheduled to happen from April 1-5 at Affinity Place, the Power Dodge Ice Centre (PDIC) and the Bienfait Memorial Arena. Forty teams, including women’s teams, were entered to play in the tournament’s 10 divisions.
But the status of this year’s tournament was uncertain, as were other sports and community events, due to the growing COVID-19 pandemic. When Estevan city council made the decision to close non-essential facilities, including Affinity Place and the PDIC, the Strippers were forced to cancel.
Prior to the city’s decision, the Strippers were still hoping to have a hockey tournament with a small beer garden, but without the traditional cabarets.
“That would have been a break-even proposition for us, and we felt it was worth it, but we knew that at any time, the city could close the facilities,” said Steve Godfrey with the Strippers.
Once he saw that many communities were taking the step to close recreation facility, he expected Estevan would follow suit.
The cabarets were definitely off after the provincial government decreed in mid-March that there wouldn’t be more than 250 people at a public gathering; that number has since been reduced to 25. The cabarets for the Strippers tournament were scheduled for April 3 and 4, and they are popular events with hockey players and members of the community alike, raising thousands of dollars for non-profit organizations.
“We support a lot of youth groups. We try to focus mostly on the youth sports groups. And any provincial events that come to town, we try to donate to them,” said Godfrey.
Godfrey said the club was initially hoping to be able to forge ahead with the tournament because it creates such a large economic spinoff for the city. Out of the 40 teams registered this year, 28 were from out of town. They would have been staying at local hotels and eating at restaurants.
“We had a couple of teams from Manitoba, and a bunch from Saskatchewan. We had one from Olds, Alberta,” said Godfrey.
The first two days of the tournament typically involve teams from the Estevan area, and the out of town teams arrive to compete in the final three days.
“I think it raises the level of the city of Estevan in everybody’s eyes, that we can put on one of these events, and how well the community supports it,” said Godfrey.
The majority of last year’s teams were ready to return in 2020, and were looking forward to playing. Nearly half of the teams have been coming since the tournament’s inception in the early 1980s.
Prior to the tournament’s cancellation, he had spoken to teams who were worried about COVID-19, but those concerns largely stemmed from whether they would be able to play because they were in self-isolation after competing in tournaments in the U.S.
“Everybody was still going to do their best to make it,” he said.
Godfrey has spoken to most of the teams that would have come from out of town, and all have said they understand the position the Strippers have been put in due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and they say they will be back next year.