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Start date moved to Feb. 4

NORTH BAY, Ont. — The Ontario Hockey League has revised its scheduled start of the 2020-21 regular season to Feb. 4, it was announced Thursday.

“Although we are eager to get back on the ice, the safety and well-being of our players, staff, officials, tremendous fans and communities remains paramount,” OHL commissioner David Branch said in a news release issued in Toronto.

The statement noted that the league “continues to work with government and health agencies to finalize outstanding matters that help ensure the health and safety of all members of the OHL community.”

Included in those considerations is whether fans will be in attendance at games.

The delayed start supersedes a tentative date of Dec. 1 that was announced in early August.

“It’s certainly good to have a date, and we’re grateful for that,” said Battalion general manager Adam Dennis.

“We’d like to be playing right now, obviously, but there’s still lots that can be done, so we’re going to continue to do what we can. We’re going to continue to get on our Zoom calls, and our players are going to continue to work out.”

The coronavirus pandemic, now widely deemed to be in a “second wave,” saw the end of the 2019-20 regular season and playoffs cancelled, with the North Bay Battalion losing six scheduled games, including four at home. No OHL game has been played since March 11.

Under the new timelines, training camps are to start Jan. 23 in preparation for a schedule that will see clubs play 40 games, down from 68, running to May 8. To reduce travel in consideration of the health and safety of players and staff, each team will play primarily against opponents in its geographic region.

Details on the structure of team alignment will be available when the schedule is released.

A total of eight teams, reduced from the usual 16, will qualify for the playoffs for the J. Ross Robertson Cup that are to get under way May 11. Playoffs will consist of three rounds, the first being best-of-five, followed by two best-of-seven series to determine an OHL champion no later than June 14.

“Given the format that’s come out, it’s going to be very important that we hit the ground running,” said Dennis.

“Guys are really chomping at the bit to get back and continue working off the way we ended our season.”

The Battalion, which finished last season with a won-lost-extended record of 17-41-4 for 38 points, went 6-3-1 in its last 10 games to wind up four points behind the Kingston Frontenacs and Niagara IceDogs, who were tied for eighth place in the Eastern Conference and what would have been the conference’s final playoff berth.

The 2021 Memorial Cup tournament, including champions of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Western Hockey League, is scheduled to start June 17 and to be hosted by either the Oshawa Generals or Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

The QMJHL started its season Oct. 2, and the WHL has said it will open Jan. 8.

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