IceDogs plan to play the body
Billy Burke has a tough time envisioning the Ontario Hockey League without body contact.
The head coach of the Niagara IceDogs was taken aback when Lisa MacLeod, Ontario’s Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries, indicated recently the league would have to remove bodychecking and other physical contact if it was to be permitted to have a 2020-21 season.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford followed that up saying he is hopeful if the OHL returns to play in February, it can be with body contact.
“I think at the end of the day we’re just going to have to hit the brakes a bit and relax,” Burke said. “In terms of coming out three months before the season and making claims, I think it’s foolish and it does no good for anybody. Fans don’t want to see it, teams don’t want to see it. It’s totally unnecessary and unfortunate, but I do know the league and the government are working and I’m confident when we start, the on-ice will be pretty similar to what we’re accustomed to.”
Burke said if the only way to play is with no contact, he will deal with it.
“We’re three months away and if come February if it’s no contact or no season, they we’ll figure out what we can do. Maybe we’ll talk to some women’s coaches and get better insight on stick checking and whatnot,” he said. “If we come down to worst-case scenarios, then we will find a silver lining, but right now we’re planning to start camp in mid-January and I’m anticipating there will be contact and we will prepare that way.”
The league announced Thursday it has pushed back its tentative start date from Dec. 1 to Feb. 4, 2021. Training camps are now slated to begin Jan. 23 with a pair of exhibition games between Jan. 29-31.
Canadian players are slated to report to their teams Jan. 22. Non-Canadian players will report Jan. 8 for a two-week quarantine.
Burke said he and his coaching staff are ready to go.
“The training camp is going to stay the same of length so our training camp is planned out. It matters when we can actually do Day 1,” he said. “It’s like everything else that’s been going on, it’s frustrating when you hear these things and get delays.”
Burke feels the new time line is more realistic considering the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Ontario.
“As we got closer to the Nov. 16 start date looking around at the landscape I think everyone certainly had their doubts where now it feels like it’s going to happen,” he said. “We’re booking the flights for the Europeans and the Americans and it feels come February we’re going to get this thing going.”
Teams will now play a 40-game regular season with the top four teams in each conference qualifying for the playoffs. It is believed the schedule will see teams play the majority of their games with teams in close proximity to each other to cut down on travel.
“Once we see the schedule, then things might change,” Burke said. “If we’re playing Hamilton and Mississauga 10 times then we may focus in on teams earlier in the season when in a usual year we wouldn’t be doing any of that.”
Burke feels it is essential some type of season be played.
“It’s incredibly important. Where these guys are in their development as humans, if they want to continue as hockey players, it’s very important they continue to play at the highest level. I don’t think you could take a year off of anything and not feel a ripple effect.”
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