OHL start delayed again

NORTH BAY, Ont. — The Ontario Hockey League announced Wednesday that it has further delayed its tentative return to play from the Covid-19 pandemic to a date to be determined.

“The safety of all of our stakeholders and communities is our priority and we are committed to starting the 2020-21 season when it is safe to do so,” OHL commissioner David Branch said in a news release.

“We know that this is difficult news for many of our players, fans, billets, parents, staff and teams. However, the restrictions both provincially in Ontario as well as nationally with regards to cross-border travel have informed our decision.”

The OHL, which hasn’t played since March because of the coronavirus, announced in October that a 40-game season per team, reduced from the standard 68, would start Feb. 4, with training camps to open in mid-January. In early August, the league had announced a tentative start date of Dec. 1.

The further delay followed the announcement Monday by Ontario premier Doug Ford of province-wide restrictions to take effect Saturday for a period of either 14 or 28 days depending on location.

“The League will continue to consult and work closely with Governments and health authorities to determine potential start dates in the new year,” Branch said.

The pandemic, considered 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. The most recent OHL game was played March 11.

No further details were announced in conjunction with the latest deferral. Previously, it was said that a total of eight teams, reduced from the usual 16, would qualify for the playoffs for the J. Ross Robertson Cup. Playoffs were to consist of three rounds, the first being best-of-five, followed by two best-of-seven series.

“While we’re anxious to resume play, we’re aware of the current climate that faces our league and are grateful for the work that the league representatives are doing on our behalf,” said Battalion general manager Adam Dennis.

“Our players have been preparing diligently for the season and will continue to do so as we await more news.

“We would like to thank our great fans for staying with us through these difficult times and look forward to seeing them again in the New Year.”

Neither the Western Hockey League nor the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the others that make up the 60-team Canadian Hockey League, is playing now.

WHL governors are to consider a start date for their schedule in discussions next month after a Jan. 8 return to the ice was scrapped last week.

The QMJHL, the only CHL constituent that has played any games this season, has said that its 12 Quebec-based clubs will see action Jan. 22-24 in four bubbles to be established at Chicoutimi, Drummondville, Rimouski and Shawinigan. All except Shawinigan are to play host to another set of “protected environment” games Jan. 29 to Feb. 6.

The league said that, for the six teams based in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, the situation is to be evaluated after the holiday period but that the goal is to resume the schedule as soon as Jan. 21.

The QMJHL opened its season Oct. 2 but suffered a number of setbacks in terms of positive Covid-19 tests.

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