OHL set to return Dec. 1
Hockey fans may be receiving an early Christmas present this year.
The Ontario Hockey League announced Wednesday it is planning to return to play on Dec. 1, subject to ensuring that the players, fans, staff and community are able to play and attend games safely. Over the next four months the league will continue to work with government and health agencies to finalize outstanding issues such as safe attendance at venues and cross-border travel for teams and players.
“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,” OHL commissioner David Branch said in a press release. “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.”
The season will include a 64-game schedule and a 16-team playoff format. The first two rounds will be a best-of-five set while the final two rounds will be the usual best-of-seven series. The regular season is scheduled to end on Thursday, April 29, 2021. The 102nd Memorial Cup is scheduled to be played June 17-27, 2021 and will be hosted by either the Oshawa Generals or Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
Niagara IceDogs general manager Joey Burke was thrilled with the news.
“What we’re optimistic about and which is great is we have a set date and some clarity now, which is fantastic,” he said. “Maybe it’s a bit later than we feel we would have liked it, but at the same time, in a situation like this you certainly can’t rush anything.”
Burke learned of the news Tuesday following a conference call with the league.
“Everyone is extremely excited. I’ve spoken with the entire roster and all of the staff after I got off the conference call and everyone is over the moon with excitement,” he said. “There had been a ton of anxiety with the uncertainly of everything and now that we finally have a concrete date to build towards, we feel we are officially back and ready to roll.”
While the start date has been established, there are still many questions.
Burke said he expects the league will soon announce the logistics for training camp.
“That is the one big question I still have,” he said. “The league is still working towards getting us an answer there. I imagine it won’t be until sometime in November and then certainly the government’s position right now is that they would like us to have as small a tryout period and as small of a training camp roster as possible. We might end up in a situation where we can only bring out 25 guys who are really in the mix to make the team.
“There are a lot of questions to still be answered there but I expect we will know within a week or so. I know the league’s competition committee is looking at that very closely.”
The question of how many fans, if any, is also unknown at this point. The OHL is a gate-driven league and it is hard to image teams would be able to survive financially without any fans in the stands.
The IceDogs sent out a ticket renewal e-mail to their season tickets holders Wednesday.
“We’re certainly trying to get approval from the government for upwards of 50 per cent capacity by December and then move forward from there,” Burke said. “None of us can really predict the future so we don’t know one way or another.
“Ideally, we’d be able to get some fans in the building. Right now we’re looking at it and whether we can or not, we’re going to be starting Dec. 1.”
The question of the three US-based teams Erie, Saginaw and — is also unknown at this point.
“We’re still waiting to hear,” Burke said. “It’s a huge area of concern and we’re all very, very cognizant about it. As of now, there has not been a plan laid out. Maybe those teams have to play each other for the first month. They are looking at all options.”
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