The Western Hockey League announced on Thursday its 2020-2021 regular season has been further postponed, scheduled to begin on Friday, Dec. 4.
“The WHL continues to have regular discussions with government and health authorities on the extensive safety measures the WHL is prepared to take to protect players, staff and fans, and to address key issues such as spectator capacities and border crossings,” notes a WHL press release.
“By adjusting the start date for its regular season to early December, the WHL will have additional time to work with government and health authorities to resolve these important issues.”
The league remains committed to playing a 68-game regular season and four playoff rounds.
Approval from government and health authorities in each of the league’s six jurisdictions is required for play to proceed, along with a minimum of 50 per cent capacity in all WHL arenas.
Gatherings in B.C. are currently limited to 50 people or fewer. The Kamloops Blazers’ arena, Sandman Centre, has a capacity of about 5,500, about 6,000 if including standing room.
Blazers’ president Don Moores was asked for an update on the likelihood of obtaining government approval for the required 50 per cent capacity.
“There is a lot of work being done behind the scenes by our executive committee in every jurisdiction, working with the governments and public health,” Moores said.
“Every province is a bit different. [B.C. Provincial Health Officer] Bonnie Henry is certainly dialled in on what she feels needs to happen. We’re working hard to certainly give different protocols that we believe will accommodate and adhere to some of her restrictions. That’s what we're working on right now. The government clearly is very busy and we are doing everything we can to make sure our fans, players and staff are in a safe environment.”
The Canadian Junior Football League cancelled its 2020 season on Thursday, in part because of gathering-size limitations.
Can Moores envision a scenario in which the league decides to play fewer than 68 games and further delay the start of the season?
“It’s hard to answer that,” Moores said. “If we’ve learned anything in the last six months, it’s that you have to remain fluid. We’ll make decisions based on what’s happening every day.”
Moores said the league is paying attention to the Canada-U.S. border situation.
“Being fluid is really important,” Moores said. “If the border remains closed, we’ll have to deal with it. If it opens and there are restrictions we have to adhere to, we’ll see if that’s workable and make those decisions as we go.”
On June 17, the league bumped its projected regular season start date to Oct. 2. Training camps were set to open on Sept. 15.
WHL commissioner Ron Robison told media on June 18 the length of training camps would be shortened if the start of the regular season was further delayed — the later the start date, the shorter the camp.
The Ontario Hockey League is aiming for a Dec. 1 start and the Memorial Cup tournament is slated to run from June 17 to June 27.
“It’s pretty emotional, an up-and-down thing for a lot of us, especially based on the team we have and the year we could have had last year,” Moores said.
“I feel very optimistic about the plan we’ve set out for December. It could end up not being what we think it is, but I feel very positive about the possibility of us playing hockey.”