Hockey Season Still Up In The Air

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The Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) has postponed the start of the regular season and will try to commence the 2020-21 campaign with a Development Season beginning August 31, 2020. The schedule was listed as originally starting September 18, but it was moved to October 16. Now it appears that may change too.

Here is the statement provided by the AJHL.

Within the current boundaries of Hockey Alberta’s Return to Hockey Plan and Stage 2 of Alberta’s Relaunch, the AJHL is unable to enter regular season competition at this time.  The League continues to have progressive discussions with the Alberta government on safety measures to protect players, staff and fans as the AJHL advances into its Development Season.

The Development Season will meet the needs of both the League and its athletes by allowing teams to actively prepare for the upcoming season while providing players an opportunity for high-calibre training and development.  Training Camps will be permitted to begin as early as August 31 in all 15 AJHL communities and will run until the AJHL embarks on regular season play.

Invited players will have the option to register for a respective team’s Development Season or opt out of the camp. 

“As anxious as we all are to return to competition and embrace our communities, public safety and the safety of our athletes has to be the priority,” stated AJHL Commissioner Ryan Bartoshyk.  “The opportunity for an AJHL Development Season will amplify the League’s ability to provide our athletes with a valuable experience through the quality instruction of our coaches and access to team training resources.”

“The Alberta Junior Hockey League will be poised to immediately resume regular season competition when Provincial regulations allow.”  As part of the Development Season, and in preparation for the regular season, the AJHL will move to exhibition play within the Province’s guidelines once rosters are reduced to the allotted size.

The AJHL Development Season outline meets the current health and safety requirements of the Government of Alberta and aligns with Hockey Canada’s Return to Hockey Safety Guidelines and Hockey Alberta’s Return to Hockey Plan in focusing on the safety and wellbeing of all participants.  In addition, teams will commit to using the ABTraceTogether App.

In June 2020, the AJHL announced the schedule for its 57 th season, which was strategically created to remove pre-determined blocks of games as part of a contingency plan should the season be delayed.  Plans for the 2021 AJHL Playoffs, 2021 Doyle Cup and 2021 Centennial Cup will be determined at a later date.

The competition to the Canadian Hockey League  (CHL), the amateur USHL, has also been looking at dates too.

The USHL released a statement on their website.

The United States Hockey League (USHL), the only Tier I junior hockey league in the United States, announced Tuesday that it has targeted Friday, November 6 as the start of the 2020-2021 season. Under the plan, teams will play 54 regular-season games between November 6, 2020 and April 24, 2021.

Players are scheduled to arrive in markets over a four-week period beginning September 14 with preseason games targeted to begin in mid-October. All activities are designed to take place in accordance with local, state and federal guidelines as well as the League’s Return to Play Protocols, which are currently being finalized.

The regular-season schedule allows for flexibility for games to be moved to the back of the schedule due to postponements, capacity restrictions, or other factors.

“We have created a plan to bring players to our markets and in order to safely begin development and ultimately competition,” said USHL President and Commissioner Tom Garrity. “Should conditions change, this plan will allow our league the flexibility to react to new circumstances, and we will adjust accordingly.”

The plan was formulated in consultation with all USHL Member Clubs. The league expects to announce the release of its 54-game regular season in the coming weeks.

The schedule, which ran last year from September to February, is looking at November to April.

On the CHL front, The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League still plans to start in October, which would put it two months ahead of both the OHL and WHL as they have announced a December opening. If the QMJHL holds true for scheduling, they would be idle for two months before the other leagues are done or would have major gaps to allow the end schedule to be about the same. The Q has also said the beginning games would be without fans, a major contrast to the OHL and WHL, which said games will not run until fans are allowed back. In addition, the Q is the only league within the CHL that doesn’t have a team based in the US, so they won’t have border issues.

At just under 125,000 cases with just under 9,100 deaths, Canada has been seeing a flattening of the curve for a couple of months. There has been a harder hit in Quebec with nearly 62,000 cases and almost 5,800 deaths, The same can’t be said for the Maritimes where the Halifax Mooseheads play. The case and death count remain extremely low at 1,100 cases with 64 reported deaths. The Mooseheads play in a larger 10,000-seat Scotiabank Centre that is still subject to the Canada restrictions.

What will the WHL or the OHL do with the season starting late or the Q starting two months earlier. While they are still figuring it out, the fans will be wondering what the next move will be.

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Stuart Kemp is the President of the Portland Winterhawks Booster Club since 2008 and has been following hockey from his native Canada since he can remember, though he can't skate, but played road hockey for several years. Loving hockey and professional wrestling, he has traveled to most of the WHL cities and with wrestling, has seen four provinces and five states. It is true that every Canadian city with more than 500 residents has a hockey rink, well at least it looks that way. Stuart has had his hand in every facet of independent Professional wrestling as he debuted as an announcer in 1986 which started his career.

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