Normally in mid-March, the Windsor Spitfires and the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) are preparing for the upcoming playoffs. With the COVID-19 pandemic still hanging on, though, everything about the start of the 2020-21 season remains up in the air. However, there was a glimmer of hope on Wednesday as the Province of Ontario announced funds for the league and gave an idea of the next steps.
Nothing about this pandemic has been easy. Players have scattered trying to find ice time, teams sit back and wait with growing impatience, and fans get weary of updates that seem to go nowhere. However, with a provincial announcement on Wednesday afternoon, the well-known crack in the door seemed to open just enough to put a skate in.
What did the province have to say?
OHL Receives Provincial Funds
When news broke of a provincial announcement regarding the OHL this week, ears perked. After months of false hope, was the long-awaited start to 2020-21 on the table? Not quite yet.
The province remained positive on Wednesday afternoon, though, as Ontario Minister of Sport Lisa MacLeod announced $2.35 million to the 17 Ontario-based OHL teams to fund post-secondary scholarships. The “initial investment” works out to approximately $138,000 per team. While it’s not the news the Spitfires had hoped for, team co-owner and president John Savage told the Windsor Star that it’s a significant expense that’s being taken care of.
“That’s a very expensive part of the balance sheet,” he said. “As a result of that, we’re happy for any support that can be given to offset funding in what has been a difficult year.” (from ‘Provincial government provides financial support to Spitfires, OHL while talks for season continue’ – Windsor Star, 3/17/21)
Talks between the province and the OHL continue and MacLeod said she’s hopeful that a return plan will be announced by the end of March. There are still a number of areas to discuss including hubs/bubbles, the U.S.-Canada border, and how many games will be played (along with playoffs and Memorial Cup).
Three things she could tell us — the goal is for at least 20 games, fans won’t be allowed in the immediate future, and she’s “optimistic” that more funding will be available to the league.
The league and province continue to talk about a return, but with so many small details involved, it’s tough to predict what will happen. The Western Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League have both returned in some capacity, leaving the OHL as the lone CHL league to still be on hold. While the door is slowly opening, the clock continues to tick away.
Spitfires Continue to Snipe Abroad
While the Province of Ontario and the OHL work to find ways to return safely, the Spitfires continue to hit the ice in some capacity. While a few players are practicing in town, others continue to impress around the world.
In Austria, 6-foot-9, 235-pound Curtis Douglas is still playing for Steel Wings Linz of the Alps Hockey League. While the team has won just three games out of 29 (all in overtime, too), Douglas has eight points in 15 games, good for fourth in team scoring.
Heading north to Espoo, Finland, defenceman Louka Henault is getting over 16 minutes of ice time per game and has chipped in five points in 10 games for Kiekko-Espoo of the Mestis league. They were on pause for two months around Christmas due to the pandemic. Here’s a video of Henault scoring his first in Mestis in February:
One last stop overseas takes us to Moscow, Russia, where forward Egor Afanasyev is playing for Krasnaya Armiya (Red Army), a junior club in their MHL. He’s done very well with six points in four regular-season games, plus another two goals in four playoffs games so far.
Back in North America, defenceman Connor Corcoran along with forwards Will Cuylle, Jean-Luc Foudy, and Tyler Angle are all with their respective AHL clubs. Foudy leads the group with eight points in 13 games for the Colorado Eagles, while Cuylle (Hartford Wolf Pack) has three points in seven games and Angle (Cleveland Monsters) has three points in two games. Unfortunately, Corcoran has yet to dress for the Henderson Silver Knights.
While Corcoran was signed by the Vegas Golden Knights, all players are eligible to return to the Spitfires should the 2020-21 season get underway this spring.