Sask. Junior Hockey League to continue coronavirus-shortened playoffs via video game simulation

It won’t result in a real Canalta Cup being awarded — but a simulated version of the rest of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoffs might just be the hottest hockey ticket around. 

The SJHL ended its season March 13 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, after eight teams had finished playing four games in the first round of the league’s 2020 playoffs. Seven teams were still in contention for the championship.

Since then, the league has been working on an interesting alternative: a video game simulation.

The SJHL has entered individual player stats into the video game NHL 20, and is now ready to have the virtual teams face off to finish the playoffs.

Fans and players alike can watch on Twitch, a live-streaming platform for gamers. 

Bill Chow is president of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. (CBC News)

“We’ve been talking about it for probably the last few weeks as to how we could create some entertainment value for the folks at home sitting around — for the kids and parents, and whoever,” said league president Bill Chow.

“It’s just to create a distraction for the people in the province and wherever they want to watch from. And it’s just something different other than the last 30 days of what we’ve been doing.”

Fans can see players from the rosters of the seven teams that were still in contention at the time of the season’s cancellation. And Chow says their skill level in the video game will be based on those players’ real stats.

“That creates how the game is virtually conducted. So once you push the play button on the [game system], it’s all done virtually and it’s all done by the computer, and it’s based on the way the players have been inputted into the system,” Chow said.

“Out comes the virtual game, and we don’t know who’s going to win.”

Seven teams remained in contention for the Canalta Cup before the COVID-19 pandemic led to the SJHL cancelling its playoffs altogether on March 13. (sjhl.ca)

The games will be based on three 10-minute periods, and broadcasters are on-board to provide live play-by-play as the simulation plays out.

“It’s just going to be like a normal game where they don’t know what’s happening the next play. It’s not pre-recorded, it’s going to be on the fly,” said Chow.

“So it’ll be interesting for them to get their head wrapped around it. And at the end of the day, it’s just about everybody having some fun with it.”

That includes the players, who will be able to watch their simulated “selves” play, and even join in on the online message commentary. 

“I’m sure there’s going to be some chirping back and forth between the sideboards and the message boards, that are created along with the [simulation],” said Chow. 

“Hopefully everybody just has some fun with it, and at the end of the day a virtual Canalta Cup will be awarded.” 

The first virtual game begins Thursday, April 23 at 7 p.m. CST. It features the simulated Game 5 of the series between the La Ronge Ice Wolves and the Yorkton Terriers, who were split 2-2 when the playoffs were cut short.

Chow says fans can watch by searching for SJHL on Twitch.

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