Still no date set for OHL return
Social media has been overflowing recently with rumours of a possible return of the Ontario Hockey League.
Everything from schedules, to bubble cities, to quarantines next month have been mentioned, but according to Niagara IceDogs general manager Joey Burke, he hasn’t heard anything official.
“That’s the funny thing. Everything comes exploding out and we haven’t been informed of any of that kind of stuff,” Burke said. “We haven’t got too much clarity, one way or the other, from the league, but I do know we are working with the government on everything.”
Burke said no stone is being left unturned to try and get back on the ice
“We’re looking at every possible option they’ll allow us to return to play,” he said. “We’ve spoke about potential bubbles and no fans and all that kind of stuff. But at the end of the day, the ball is in the government’s court, so to speak, and we’re just waiting to get some kind of direction.
“As of now, we really haven’t got anything official.”
The league has crafted several dates to begin play, each one passing as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc with sports at all levels.
“We were of the position once we got into February and we couldn’t start, that would be the drop dead date,” Burke said. “But even at this point I certainly believe if we can get going by April that will allow us to get some semblance of a schedule in and get a shortened playoff in and, potentially, even a Memorial Cup in by the end of June.
“If we’re able to get a 20-24 game schedule in and we’re able to wrap it up by the end of June, then I really think it is viable and it is an option. But certainly if we start to drift beyond that it will be past point of no return unfortunately and we’ll have to switch our sights to next year.”
The league issued a statement last week regarding a return to play.
“First and foremost, the Ontario Hockey League is anxious to return to play and eager to get our players back on the ice to drop the puck on a 2020-21 regular season. As we have for many months, we continue to work hard toward ensuring a safe return to play for everyone.
“We are encouraged by our ongoing discussions with government and public health agencies, but have not yet arrived at an approved Return to Play framework for the coming season. The league will share more information with our players, families, staff, billets and tremendous fans as a finalized plan for a safe return to the ice becomes available.”
Burke feels if it is safe, pretty much any type of schedule would be beneficial.
“We still have a young group in the grand scheme of things and it’s important to get guys like (Pano) Fimas and (Brice) Cook and (Alec) Leonard, just get them as 16-year-olds acclimatized to the pace and the speed all that kind of stuff,” he said. “It’s so important from our end just to get the experience so they can hit the ground running in their 17-year-old year and be all the more comfortable.
“While it is short and not ideal, it certainly is very important to get anything for these guys.”
The IceDogs last game was a 9-1 loss to Ottawa Tuesday, March 10 of 2020.
“From my end, the longer it drags out, it’s a nightmare. I feel for all the guys and all the staff who are champing and the bit to get going,” Burke said. “We’re coming up on a full calendar year since we played. I love being at the rink and working with the staff and the agents and scouting and getting out there and meeting with these players. Mentally, it takes a toll on me as well.
“It’s far past the point where I’m more than ready to get going.”
Burke feels once play does resume, all involved may appreciate the opportunity to play at the OHL level even more.
“It shows you how fragile everything is and how fast things can change. It’s been an unbelievable year for everybody. It certainly does teach you to appreciate everything as it comes. We just can’t wait to get back to normal.”
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