On Wednesday, the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) announced it will aim to begin its 2020-21 season Dec. 1. Thursday, the Western Hockey League (WHL) revealed it is looking at a Dec. 4 start. Under normal circumstances, the leagues usually begin their seasons in late September.
“We are looking forward to getting back to playing hockey, but are committed to ensuring that we do so in a manner that is safe and healthy for our players, officials, families, billets, teams, staff, fans and the community,” OHL commissioner David Branch said in a press release. “Players will remain at home until the season resumes and teams will work closely with them on both their academic studies and overseeing their on and off-ice development. In addition, the League will liaise with our facilities to ensure that our venues are safe for our return to play.”
The OHL is set to play a condensed 64-game regular-season schedule to run through April 29, 2021, followed by the usual 16-team playoff. In previous years, OHL teams skated in 68 regular season games. The WHL has said it will play a full 68 games, followed by four rounds of playoffs.
“Regardless of our start date, the WHL is committed to playing a full regular season and playoffs in 2020-21,” WHL commissioner Ron Robison said in the announcement. “In our discussions with the government and health authorities, it has become apparent that additional time is required to ensure we can return to play in a safe and responsible manner. Our WHL health and safety protocols have been well received by the health authorities but we have several key issues that we will need to reach a resolution on in the coming months.”
The announcements come after the leagues’ respective 2019-20 seasons were halted March 12 and eventually cancelled, along with the postseason, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 23, the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) cancelled the 2020 Memorial Cup, the first cancellation in the tournament’s history. The 102nd Memorial Cup — to determine the top junior team in Canada among teams from the WHL, OHL and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) — was scheduled to take place in Kelowna, B.C., from May 22-31.
If everything goes according to plan, then the 102nd Memorial Cup will be played June 17-27, 2021, and will be hosted by either the Soo Greyhounds or Oshawa Generals of the OHL.
The QMJHL has not announced its start date; however, it reportedly proposed in late July a 60-game schedule, limited travel and an Oct. 1 start to its four member provinces.