The month of December became a whirlwind for all teams in Canada with their respective leagues.
The lone holdout on a very delayed season was the Western Hockey League, hoping to start January 8 with players arriving post-Christmas. With border closures and arena closures and inability to travel in some areas within their own boundaries, the WHL had to finally post that they would delay their season. Unlike previous posts where they would announce a start date, the post was very open ended with the WHL instead stating that they would working closely with local officials on COVID-19 and Government Health Officers. The WHL is unable to announce a restart date and it seems that may be the case for other leagues that make up the CHL. The Ontario Hockey League is also “open-ending” their start date after hoping to get underway on February 4. The QMJHL extended its holiday break to this week, but so far has not updated anyone as to plans to go forward. The league standings have a few teams playing as many as 15 games, while two teams are just eight games in with the Blainville Boisbriand Armada and Quebec Ramparts with Sherbrooke Phoenix having just completed five games.
The WHL has also delayed its Bantam Draft. Usually held at the tail end of the Memorial Cup, the draft has been moved from May to December 2021. The 2006 born players from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba will be able to take part in the WHL Cup to allow for scouts to get a better handle on what players are ready for the riggers of the WHL. The draft will also include players from Northwest Territories, Yukon, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
Other leagues in Canada have not been able to start and in the US, several teams of the East Coast Hockey League that make up the farm system for the American Hockey League and further to the NHL have also shuttered this season and it will shape the dynamic for the upcoming season.
The World Juniors has run its games in Edmonton as a bubble with all teams taking part in the Rogers Arena. Only 10 teams participated this year, two less than usual with Belarus and Great Britain not involved due to the pandemic. Though there were cases reported prior to the start of the tournament which resulted in some players unable to participate, they were able to pull the tournament off. There were no fans attending and it aired on The Sports Network (TSN) in Canada and NHL Network in the states. The finals to be held in the next two days have the final four teams as the US, Canada, Russia and Finland.
The Portland Winterhawks seem to have finally settled on new ownership. The situation seemed to take a lot longer than had been hoped. First reported by Jeff Marek of Sportsnet Canada and further followed up by with bankruptcy paperwork by Josh Critzer who was last with Dub Network, the sale appears to be in the same amount as what as what was originally paid for the team. Critzer mentioned the new owners are dividing the pie into four pieces, The Portland Winterhawks, Winterhawks Skating Center, Jr Winterhawks and Winterhawks Amateur Hockey Association (WAHA) The Skating Center venue is an owned building, but the land is owned by Jesuit Hight School next door. WAHA is a 501(c)(3) Charity which helps raise money for the Education fund and supplies items outside for hockey related programs. The Jr. Winterhawks were purchased by the Portland Winterhawks last season which made them a for-profit status.
The owners are calling the new ownership group Winterhawks Sports Group. Michael Kramer is the majority owner and Alternate Governor Kerry Preete is a minority owner and Governor, and Peter Luukko is an owner with several people in various stakeholders Preete has hockey experience as a player with the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League with the Humboldt Broncos and Prince Albert Raiders before they moved to the WHL. Preete was alongside current Brandon Wheat Kings owner Kelly McCrimmon when with Prince Albert in 1977/78. Luukko has heavy involvement with the renovations of Seattle Kraken arena and multi–ice sheet practice facility. Michael Kramer is and owner and CEO of a boutique investment firm Ducera Partners in New York. Between these three and others involved in the project, the Hawks are poised to have a very strong base for years to come.
Josh Critzer was to be interviewing the new ownership group this week. The biggest questions taken away were on the subjects of missed games at the end of the season, playoffs that were paid for and not run and subsequent billing by the team for a couple of months before it being shut off and where that money would go and if refunds would be offered. The other was on game night experiences and meet and greets. It will be very interesting to see their thoughts on what a game night experience and meet and greet opportunity would look like.
The Winterhawks also has great news this past week when Seth Jarvis was inked to a 3-year entry level contract with the Carolina Hurricanes. Jarvis, who shattered records and quickly became a fan favorite, was expected to have a breakout year and instead has had this season all but shuttered. He was also cut from the World Junior squad which seems to be the norm for Canada in that they seem to have mostly 19- and 20-year-old players on the roster.
Now the people wait for a season that may or may not come and hope that the players will have a chance to take the ice sometime in 2021.