Western Hockey League hopes to stage 24-game season

But the plan needs approval from health authorities in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Washington state and Oregon before any dates can be set.

While the Western Hockey League plans to stage a 24-game regular season, whether that amended season proceeds depends on the decisions of health authorities in the four provinces and two U.S. states in which the 22-team league has teams.

In a release posted to its website, the WHL said its board of governors has made a commitment to play a 24-game regular season, with the start date to be determined once final approval has been received from the health authorities in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Washington state and Oregon.

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In its release, the WHL said it anticipates approvals will be granted soon, noting all models and schedule formats are being considered. It is doubtful that fans will be able to attend games if and when health authorities grant approval to play. It is likely play would be restricted to divisions created out of geography, with the Kamloops Blazer playing the other four B.C. Division squads.

The Western Hockey League is one of three major junior circuits under the Canadian Hockey League umbrella.

The Ontario Hockey League has Feb. 4 as its tentative start date, but that plan remains up in the air due to rising COVID-19 case counts and increased restrictions in that province. The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League did begin its 2020-2021 season in October, but case counts forced the league to suspend play on Dec. 1. It is hoping to resume play in bubble cities later this month, though that plan is also in peril with Quebec under the strictest pandemic-related restrictions, including a nightly 8 p.m. curfew, in the country.

The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on sports leagues at all levels, with the CFL cancelling its 2020 season and the NHL, NBA, MLB and MLS staging abbreviated seasons after a pause in play last spring and summer. The NFL managed to finish the regular season and is now into its playoffs, but did so with numerous COVID-19 related postponements. The 2020-2021 NBA season began late, in December, while a 56-game NHL 2020-2021 season will begin on Jan. 13, with division play only and all seven Canadian clubs in one division.

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