QMJHL Feels Impact of COVID-19 Despite No Positive Tests

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League has had no positive tests for COVID-19 in five weeks of player activities, commissioner Gilles Courteau announced Friday, hours before the regular season began.

QMJHL Commissioner Gilles Courteau
QMJHL Commissioner Gilles Courteau speaks to the media Oct. 2 in Montreal. (Image from Zoom press conference/Josh Lewis THW)

However, without fans at Quebec arenas and limited capacity in Maritime rinks, it will be a tough season for team owners, Courteau told media during a press conference in Montreal. In response to a question from The Hockey Writers about financial stability for the league’s 18 franchises, Courteau suggested owners seek government support if necessary.

QMJHL Teams Could “End Their Season in the Red for Sure”

“The 2020-21 season… will be a tough one for the ownership across the league. We all know, as an example, if we operate with no fans throughout the season for Quebec-based teams, it will have a very negative impact financially. But the owners took the risk, they knew what could happen,” Courteau said.

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“The same thing with the six Maritime teams, even with some fans, that’s going to be a tough season for them. Some teams will end their season in the red for sure if there is no change in regards to an increased number of fans, or financial support from government.” The commissioner added there have been no talks yet about the bidding process for the 2022 Memorial Cup, which will be hosted by a QMJHL team.

Baie-Comeau Drakkar Nathan Legare
Nathan Legare, Baie-Comeau Drakkar (Courtesy QMJHL)

Karl Jahnke, the QMJHL’s chief marketing officer, said it was difficult to create arena seating plans for the six Maritime clubs “which respect public health official guidelines in each of the three provinces, while maximizing the number of fans.”

For example, the Charlottetown Islanders released seating guidelines for Eastlink Centre last week. Every second row of seats will be blocked off, as will every aisle seat and all standing room areas. The arena has been divided into six sections, each with their own entrance, exit and bathrooms. Masks are required at all times except when eating, and concessions must be ordered from your seat via the CHL App. These measures mean less than 1,200 seats will be available out of the rink’s normal capacity of 3,700.

Jahnke also said each arena will maintain a registry for public health that must be signed by anyone entering the building, aside from fans attending Maritime games. Each person will have their temperature taken upon entry; if it is high, they are tested again five minutes later. If their temperature is still high, they will not be allowed entry. “This allows us to work in collaboration with public health officials,” Jahnke said. He added that the league has worked hard to improve the quality of its webcasts, with multiple camera angles and a scorebug on the screen. Fans can pay $39.99 monthly for access to all games.

Daily COVID-19 Tests for Players, Staff, Billets

Martin Lavallee, assistant to the commissioner, said all players, staff, officials and billet families will be tested on a daily basis, and contingency plans are in place to “allow us to react quickly and take the necessary measures,” should there be a confirmed case. “Today’s launch of the season is the result of everyone’s hard work and shows it is possible to act collectively against the spread of COVID-19.”

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Due to self-isolation requirements, teams in Quebec and the Maritimes will not face each other in the regular season. Quebec clubs will only play each other, as will the teams in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Ten of the league’s 16 teams played twice on opening weekend, with the Victoriaville Tigres and Charlottetown Islanders posting 2-0 records. The Saint John Sea Dogs lost both their games, one in overtime.

Hendrix Lapierre Chicoutimi Saguenéens
Chicoutimi Saguenéens player Hendrix Lapierre (Credit: André Emond)

Even if the league manages to keep all players and staff free of COVID-19, it’s clear the threat of the virus will make this a QMJHL season like no other.

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