OHL running out of time
The Ontario Hockey League’s faint hope of having some type of season appears to be on life support.
Earlier this week, Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries Lisa MacLeod appeared to be close to pulling the plug altogether on the prospect for the OHL resuming play any time soon.
“The ground has shifted significantly,” the minister said, referring to worsening COVID-19 conditions. “We will not be putting young athletes at risk.”
MacLeod did leave the door open to a season once health levels are appropriate, although, she did not specify what health levels the province would need to see to resume play.
Niagara IceDogs head coach Billy Burke conceded not knowing if a season is going to be played or not is the most difficult aspect.
“Being in limbo is certainly the hardest part of this,” he said. “Everyday it feels like almost two days.
“We’ve been waiting so long and to see those comments come out certainly is very discouraging. It’s just very disappointing. It’s another blow in a long line of blows.”
Ontario set another record for daily COVID-19 cases Friday with 4,812 new cases.
“Of course you certainly understand where it’s coming from and there is no blueprint to follow or no dress rehearsal,” Burke said. “You’re going into it blind but to be at this point with no plan, it’s very disappointing.”
MacLeod said she meets with the OHL several times a week and they have gone over different scenarios on what a season might look like. She previously said the hope was to get the season in the books before the NHL entry draft, tentatively scheduled for July 23–24.
The OHL released a statement on the situation Thursday.
“Over the past number of months, the league has worked tirelessly with premier Doug Ford and the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health on a return to play plan, which we believe is in the best interest of our players’ physical and mental health. This has been our priority and our return to play plan was recently granted conditional approval. The recent increase in COVID-19 cases across the province paired with the latest reinstatement of a stay-at-home order have put increased pressure on these plans.
“The league will provide a further update to our players, families, billets, teams and fans in the coming days.”
Burke fears it may already be too late to pull together any type of season.
“We have to be within a week of a drop dead date,” he said. “We have to make a decision. Obviously it takes time to quarantine and put things together for any type of season. The Memorial Cup is cancelled so all we would be talking about would be a small, 10-20 game showcase. Even if it’s for unsigned and undrafted guys, that would be great. Even that is probably a bit of a long shot.
“At some point we have to put all of our attention to starting as close as we can on time in the fall and hopefully the vaccine rollout continues to improve and we can have fans back in the stands in the fall.”
It has been over a year since the IceDogs last played a game.
“I was doing video and watching a game from November, 2019 and it really does feel like it was 10 years ago,” Burke said. You see the Meridian Centre and it’s just remarkable.”
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