The Western Hockey League has further postponed the start of its 2020-2021 regular season, moving opening day to Jan. 8.
That news was announced on Wednesday (Oct. 14) in a league-issued press release, which also noted there will be no inter-division play during the regular season, which is taking previously unseen form as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Teams in each division will be restricted to playing each other during the regular season:
• The B.C. Division is composed of the five B.C.-based teams, including the Kamloops Blazers;
• The U.S. Division includes the five teams in Washington state and Oregon;
• The Central Division encompasses the five Alberta-based teams;
• The East Division has the seven Saskatchewan- and Manitoba-based teams;
WHL commissioner Ron Robison took questions on Thursday during a virtual media conference.
He said the Jan. 8 regular season start date is firm, not tentative. The regular season will feature no more than 50 games and will conclude on May 2. Playoff scenarios have not been discussed.
On testing for the novel coronavirus: "We have an extensive screening process that we'll go through, but we're not sure what our testing requirements will be," Robison said. "Certainly, at the start of the season there will be testing and if symptoms show there will be testing and isolation as we go."
Robison said he expects more complete schedule details to be available in November.
Reporter Steve Ewen of The Province asked the WHL how it will deal with viaSport's (the B.C. government's delivery agency for sport) four-team cohort rules.
The league's response: "We are continuing to work on those details and remain in conversation with the B.C. government. At this time, it has not been determined what cohorts will look like for the WHL in B.C."
Cohorts can be changed after a two-week break.
The league said players are expected to report to clubs after Christmas.
“The WHL looks forward to continuing work with government and health authorities in our region and will implement any measures that are necessary to protect our players, staff, officials, and fans during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the press release said. “A final determination has not yet been made as to whether spectators will be permitted to attend WHL games, as this will be subject to the approval of the health authorities in each jurisdiction.”
In mid-June, the league bumped its projected regular season start date to Oct. 2. In early August, the WHL pushed back opening day to Dec. 4.