|The Medicine Hat Tigers soak up an extra time win on Jan. 25.|
While some progress has been made, the major junior circuit still has to do a lot of work and hope for some luck when it comes to going ahead with a 2020-21 season with the world in the grips of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Most sports leagues are in the same boat, but the WHL has some unique hoops to navigate.
First, the WHL has to try and get four provincial governments and four provincial health authorities in Canada and two state governments and two state health authorities in the United States to pull in the same direction for a return to play to occur. The WHL has 17 teams located across Western Canada and five clubs located in the states of Washington and Oregon in the United States.
Second, the WHL has to navigate the issue of the border between Canada and the United States being closed to non-essential travel. At the moment, the border is slated to be closed through to this coming Wednesday.
This past Wednesday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated in an interview with a Winnipeg radio station the border would remain closed until the United States can get its COVID-19 case count under control.
|Isaac Poulter and Broncos are going to the East Division.|
Over the last four days, the United States added 71,688 new cases in one 24-hour period and 66,132 new cases in another 24-hour period.
With new COVID-19 case numbers trending upward in Western Canada along with Ontario and Quebec over the past week, it is safe to assume the border between Canada and the United States won’t be open any time soon.
Also, Ontario and Quebec have increased lockdown measures over the past week.
In this current climate, the WHL is trying to do what it can to get back on the ice. On Wednesday, the circuit announced January 8, 2021 as the start date for the upcoming regular season.
The WHL had two previous tentative start dates originally slated for October 2 and then December 4 of this year.
|Connor Zary in action for the Kamloops Blazers.|
All the WHL players are slated to report to their teams after the Christmas break. They will train in preparation for the opening of the regular season.
Also on Wednesday, the WHL announced Dr. Dhiren Naidu of Edmonton has been appointed as the league’s chief medical advisor. Dr. Naidu served as the NHL’s medical director for that league post-season hub location in Edmonton.
On Thursday, WHL commissioner Ron Robison held an online media conference to expand on Wednesday’s announcements.
Robison said the January 8, 2021 regular season start date is a firm one, and the regular season will run through to May 2, 2021. That scenario would allow each club to play a maximum of 50 games in the regular season.
During a normal campaign, WHL teams play 68 regular season games each.
|Tristen Robins in action for the Saskatoon Blades.|
Robison said there are no plans for teams to play in a bubble environment, which the NHL and NBA did to finish their 2019-20 campaigns.
There are hopes the Memorial Cup tournament to determine the CHL champion can be held in the middle of June of 2021 either in Oshawa or Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
Robison added the league is currently working with public health agencies on how to manage the entry of players from the United States and Europe to cross back into Canada.
At the moment, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is the only circuit under the CHL that has started to play regular season games, and that return has been a rough one since the regular season started on Oct. 2.
The Blainville-Broisbriand Armada encountered at least 18 COVID-19 cases and the Sherbrooke Phoenix had at least eight COVID-19 infections. Both teams had to suspend team activities.
This past Wednesday, the QMJHL announced the 12 teams located in the province of Quebec have had their games postponed until October 28. At the time of that announcement, six of those clubs in Quebec were located in red zones that have been shut down by government restrictions.
|Bowen Byram in action for the Vancouver Giants.|
The OHL is still targeting Dec. 1 as tentative date for their regular season to start.
The WHL’s plan to have teams concentrate playing regular seasons in regional areas is a good one. As the consistency between governments and health authorities in handling the pandemic is all over the map, it was easier to get sports going in some areas as opposed to others.
At the Junior A level of hockey, the Manitoba Junior Hockey League has been playing regular season games.
The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League announced on Friday that teams can play exhibition games immediately with attendance capped at 150 people. Everyone inside arenas for SJHL games has to wear face masks.
The SJHL is targeting to start its regular season on Nov. 2, and is still working on how many spectators will be allowed into arenas for those contests.
Still, circuits like the MJHL and SJHL are mainly focused on playing games inside the boundaries of one province.
|The Prince Albert Raiders celebrate a goal on March 3.|
There are no guarantees the WHL will hit the ice for any games.
At the moment, WHL has given as much clarity as it can about its future. It is a future the circuit as well as all other sports leagues have no control over due to these COVID-19 pandemic times.
If you have any comments you would like to pass along about this post, feel free to email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you like what you see here, you might want to donate to the cause to keep independent media like this blog going. Should you choose to help out, feel free to click on the DONATE button in the upper right corner. Thank you for stopping in.