Friday, 12 February 2021

Happy Friday for WHL

East Division teams to play in Regina bubble

The Pats celebrate at goal at the Brandt Centre in 2019.
When a provincial Premier gets in on a big announcement, you know it is a huge day for a major junior hockey circuit.

On Friday near the end of the lunch hour, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe sent out a message on Twitter saying the WHL’s East Division has been granted approval to used Regina as a hub city for a shortened regular season starting on March 12.

Just two minutes after Moe sent out his tweet, the WHL sent out a tweet containing the release of the details regarding Regina becoming a hub city for the East Division.

The announcement was a big one for the major junior circuit as it now has plans approved to get three out of its four divisions back into action.

Back on March 12, 2020, the WHL paused its 2019-20 regular season before eventually cancelling the rest of the 2019-20 campaign due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has gripped the world. The last games played by the league occurred on March 11, 2020.

The Central Division is set to begin regular season play on Feb. 26 with home-and-home series weekends involving the circuit’s five Alberta-based teams. The U.S. Division will begin play on March 19. Plans are still in the works to get the B.C. Division back into action.

Currently, the East Division is the only division that will use a bubble format. The East Division will contain the circuit’s five clubs based in Saskatchewan in the Moose Jaw Warriors, Prince Albert Raiders, Regina Pats, Saskatoon Blades and Swift Current Broncos along with the WHL’s two Manitoba-based squads in the Brandon Wheat Kings and Winnipeg Ice.

The WHL has been cleared by the Government of Manitoba to allow the league to bring its two Manitoba-based clubs to the Regina bubble.

Each team is scheduled to play 24 regular season games.

All of the regular season games will be played at the Brandt Centre, which is the Pats home rink. The schedule for those games will be announced at a later date, and no spectators will be allowed.

Chase Wouters will make a final run with the Blades.
Practices will be held at the Co-operators Centre, which is connected to the Brandt Centre thanks to some above ground corridors on the Evraz Place grounds.

Teams will be housed at the dormitories on the grounds of the University of Regina and Luther College.

WHL players and staff from Saskatchewan and Manitoba based teams will begin self-quarantining on February 20 and will report to the WHL hub centre in Regina on Feb. 27. Players and staff will be required to undergo COVID-19 testing upon arrival followed by an additional quarantine period.

Following that quarantine period, players and staff will undergo a second COVID-19 test before being permitted to engage in any team activity.

WHL clubs will provide private PCR testing through DynaLIFE Medical Labs in order to ensure no additional strain is placed on public health. Players will be tested upon arrival to their WHL team and once again before engaging in any team activity.

The major junior circuit will implement an ongoing weekly private PCR testing strategy.

If a WHL squad has one or more players or staff test positive for COVID-19 at any point in the season, the team will be required to suspend its activities for a minimum of 14 days.

There will be enhanced screening for all WHL players, team staff and officials that will take place on a daily basis including regular temperature screenings as well as symptom monitoring through the WHL Athlete RMS Mobile Application.

Masks must be worn by all WHL players at all times except when they are participating on ice for games and practices.

WHL coaches will be required to wear masks at all times including while conducting practice and while behind the bench during games.

Overall, this announcement got ultra-passionate WHL fans in Saskatchewan and Manitoba all tingly feeling with excitement. Many are waiting to hear details on the new live streaming service the WHL said was coming for games.

Following that announcement, the WHL kept rolling out the feel good news on Friday. The circuit announced the Central Division’s schedule for the first two weeks of play.

Max Paddock and the Raiders are Regina bound.
The Feb. 26 games to open play in the Central Division is scheduled to see the Medicine Hat Tigers travel to Red Deer to take on the Rebels, while the Lethbridge Hurricanes head to Edmonton to face the Oil Kings.

On Friday evening, the WHL announced it had conducted 245 COVID-19 tests on players and staff from the Central Division clubs from Feb. 6 to 12 and there were not positive test in that batch.

Of course, a wrench could still be thrown into any plans for games depending on how developments go on the COVID-19 front.

Still, Friday was a day players, staff and fans of the WHL’s East Division teams had been looking forward to for almost a year. At the moment, it really feels like game action will become a reality.

Rebels players living at rink is just too sweet, other notes

The Red Deer Rebels made waves in the sporting world this week, when they revealed their players would live at their home arena during their shortened 2020-21 campaign.

On Tuesday, Greg Meachem, who has covered the Rebels for decades, wrote a piece for the club’s website detailing the plans to have the Rebels players live in the luxury suites at the Westerner Park Centrium.

The move was made in consultation with officials at Westerner Park, the City of Red Deer, suite holders, players and parents.

Rebels head coach, general manager and owner Brent Sutter thought having the players stay at the rink might be easier than living with billet families due to all the protocols WHL clubs have to follow playing in a world that is in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Their mental health is something that’s important to me,” said Sutter in Meachem’s piece. “I was concerned that the kids would have to be in their bedrooms at billet houses.

“If other people were in the house, they couldn’t be hanging around the house. They would have to be in their rooms. We have things set up on the (Centrium) concourse…. ping pong tables, basketball hoops, things like that.

“And, we’ve moved our gym equipment upstairs, because we can only have so many people in a room. We can’t put everyone in one room together. We have to use two or three dressing rooms.”

Since making that post on Tuesday on the Rebels website, many media outlets across Canada have done stories on the Rebels plans of having their players live at the Centrium. NBC Sports in the United States also did a piece on the living arrangements of the Rebels players.

Many of the Rebels billet families brought beds for the players to use, and the hockey club also received beds from others in the community.

The suites were all equipped with Wi-Fi, rooms were set up to allow players in school to work on their studies, and a few recreation rooms were built to allow players to watch television or movies.

Overall, the Rebels hit a homerun with this idea.

The Rebels players are now living at the rink, and you have to believe they will get a kick out of what is a unique experience at the moment.

·        If all goes well, Bob Ridley will call his 4,000th game as the play-by-play voice of the Medicine Hat Tigers when they host the Red Deer Rebels on Feb. 27. At the moment, Ridley has called 3,998 Tigers games including action in the regular season, standings tiebreakers, WHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup tournament. No one in hockey has called more games as the play-by-play voice of one team as Ridley has.

·       On Thursday, the NBA’s Toronto Raptors announced they will play the rest of their home games at the Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. The Raptors had been hoping to play part of their home schedule in Toronto, but the team decided to remain in the United States after Canada increased its COVID-19 protocols when it comes to entering the country.

·        The University of Regina Cougars women’s hockey team and the Manitoba hockey community are grieving the sudden passing of Emily Middagh at age 22 on Sunday. Middagh, who is a Winnipeg, Man., product, played defence for the Cougars in the 2018-19 U Sports campaign. Middagh had mental health battles in her life, and she was often seen at the rink with her service dog, River, when she played with the Cougars. Carter Brooks of Game ON Hockey in Winnipeg wrote a heartfelt tribute piece on Middagh, which can be found by clicking right here.

·       You have to admire the fans that make up the WWE Universe. This week, they were able to uncover the identity of the online stalker that has been harassing WWE superstar Alexa Bliss and her fiancĂ©, Ryan Cabrera. The issue with the stalker goes back to 2020, and authorities have been notified. On Thursday, Ringside News put together a story about the fans uncovering the stalker’s identity, which can be found by clicking right here. As of Thursday night, the last know Twitter account of the stalker had been removed by the social media platform.

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