The Ontario Hockey League (OHL) has announced their return to play plan for the 2020-21 season, with a target start date of Dec. 1, 2020.
The 2019-20 season was cancelled in March with spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving many questions about what would happen to the upcoming major junior season. There is now some clarity to how that will look.
According to the OHL’s announcement, the Dec. 1 start date is “subject to ensuring that the players, fans, staff and community are able to play and attend games safely.”
The league will be working with the government and health agencies to ensure safe attendance to games and safe cross-border travel for the American teams.
The upcoming season will include a 64 games, down from the typical 68, and a 16-team playoff as usual. The regular season will run until April 29, 2021, with a June 17 – 27 Memorial Cup, which will be held in either Oshawa or Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
“We are looking forward to getting back to playing hockey, but are committed to ensuring that we do so in a manner that is safe and healthy for our players, officials, families, billets, teams, staff, fans and the community,” said OHL Commissioner David Branch.
“Players will remain at home until the season resumes and teams will work closely with them on both their academic studies and overseeing their on and off-ice development. In addition, the League will liaise with our facilities to ensure that our venues are safe for our return to play.”
Questions Remain About OHL Return to Play Plan
There are two big questions remaining after the OHL’s return to play announcement. First, how will they handle the American teams and the cross-border situation, as the Canadian-American border is still closed at this time. And second, will the OHL actually be able to have fans in attendance?
Sportnet’s Jeff Marek reported that there was discussion about the three American teams playing in an Ontario host city, but those teams (Erie Otters, Flint Firebirds, and Saginaw Spirit) weren’t in favour of that plan.
In addition, it’s likely that there will be a COVID-19 testing plan that has yet to be released and both the regular season and playoff structure have yet to be confirmed. While these questions are still up in the air, the league announcing the targeted start date is a step forward towards getting answers.
The start date is still four months away and the OHL will be working hard to ensure the safety of players, staff, and fans. Having a target date to be back on the ice is a very good first step though.
Expect Announcements on QMJHL and WHL Return to Play Plans Soon
While no official announcements have been made yet, Marek also reported that the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and Western Hockey League (WHL) should be announcing their return to play plans soon.
For the QMJHL, there have been some features leaked. Marek mentioned that the league will feature a 60-game season (down from the regular 68), with three divisions playing inter-divisional play (Maritime Division will likely only play others within their division, etc.). A big difference in the QMJHL’s reported plan is that they are aiming for an Oct. 1 start date.
Marek adds that the QMJHL will not decide on their playoff structure until December and that this plan still needs approval from all Provinces involved, but does have member approval. The governments are expected to make recommendations on many factors, including attendance.
He also mentioned that the WHL was scheduled to have an owners call on Aug. 5 and that he expects a similar plan to the OHL with the potential for a few more games.