NORTH BAY, Ont. — The Ontario Hockey League, including the North Bay Battalion, has a prospective date for a return to play in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
The OHL announced Wednesday that the league has a tentative start date of Dec. 1 for the 2020-21 season, subject to ensuring that players, staff, fans and communities can maintain safety. The league said that, over the next four months, it will continue to work with government and health agencies to address issues such as attendance at venues and cross-border travel.
“We’re 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 news 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 is to feature clubs playing a 64-game schedule, four fewer than standard, with a 16-team playoff format. The regular season is scheduled to end on Thursday, April 29.
The Memorial Cup tournament, which includes champions of the OHL, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Western Hockey League, together comprising the Canadian Hockey League, is to be played June 17-27. It will be hosted by either the Oshawa Generals or Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
“The league’s announcement gives our players and staff an opportunity to add a little more detail into the planning of next season,” said Adam Dennis, the Battalion’s general manager.
“While there are still things that are out of our control, we are grateful for a target date and the chance to prepare for that first time our group can play an organized game together.”
Dennis noted that the club has maintained as many standard practices as possible since the end of the 2019-20 regular season and playoffs were canceled in March. The Battalion played 62 of its scheduled 68 games, losing four dates at Memorial Gardens.
“Our coaching staff has been keeping in touch with our players, and everyone has been putting in the required work, despite the obvious restrictions. The extra time in the offseason can give our young group a chance to get stronger and more prepared for the condensed season.”
When players are able to return, Dennis said, the Battalion will be prepared.
“Over the next few months, we plan to organize several Zoom conference calls to make sure our group is ready to hit the ground running when training camp arrives.”
The OHL season customarily opens with training camps starting in late August and the regular season running from the third week of September until the middle of March.