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Memorial Cup bid presentations remain in limbo

The waiting game continues for the Soo Greyhounds and Oshawa Generals to make their presentations to host the 2021 Memorial Cup
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GFL Memorial Gardens file photo. Brad Coccimiglio/SooToday

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They were slated to make presentations in April and the host would have been determined long ago, but the COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed those plans.

The Ontario Hockey League’s Soo Greyhounds and Oshawa Generals have taken somewhat of a wait-and-see approach when it comes to making their presentations to host the 2021 Memorial Cup.

In a phone interview on Thursday afternoon, OHL commissioner David Branch spoke of the factors that have to be taken into consideration when it comes to hosting the tournament next spring.

One of those factors is the tournament dates.

Generally held in late-May, the potential delay to start the hockey season across the Canadian Hockey League due to the pandemic means the tournament could be held later than usual.

For Branch, the good news is the potential start of the NHL playoffs this summer has helped change the mindset that the tournament has to be held at the same time it always is.

“The Memorial Cup dates for hosting is a trigger of what we can do if the need is to extend our season because of the start time,” Branch said. “One of the good things that we’re all seeing is what the National Hockey League is doing. Who would have ever thought that their playoffs would be held in the months of late-July, August, and the Stanley Cup in September? That has helped us develop a mindset that it isn’t the same old, same old. We are in a new world and we all recognize that. It puts us in a better position to possibly look at altering when we might normally hold the Memorial Cup. That discussion is very much alive.”

“The one element to this is that we’ve had absolutely incredible cooperation from the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and the Oshawa Generals,” Branch added. “They’re cooperating and they’re understanding. A lot of their plans are on hold until we confirm when we’re having the tournament and moving forward with the bid process.”

Branch also said that both teams have expressed wanting to make their presentations in person as opposed to virtually.

“We recognize that there may come a time when that won’t be practical for a variety of reasons and we’ll do it by way of technology,” Branch said. “The way we do business now is by way of technology. We’re working through that right now from a timing standpoint.”

In a statement released earlier this week, Branch said “we plan to drop the puck in the fall.”

Elaborating on that comment on Thursday, Branch didn’t set a specific date for when the OHL would like to get the 2020-21 regular season underway. He did confirm that the league plans to do everything possible to get a full 68-game schedule in.

“It’s an important factor, no question,” Branch said. “We are a gate-driven league. Our teams each lost several games at the end of last season and lost all of their playoff opportunity. There’s been significant challenges there. That feeds into hopefully being able to play as many regular-season games as possible.”

Branch has remained in regular contact with Gilles Courteau, commissioner of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and Ron Robison, Commissioner of the Western Hockey League, during the pandemic.

“We talk several times every week,” Branch said. “We schedule calls for the purpose of returning to play and dealing with COVID-19. There’s constant dialogue and exchanging ideas. We share in most cases where we are and where we’re going. We would all like to be able to set a date but everything we want to do is subject to government and health organization guidelines. That also goes to the safety and well-being of our players and our fans and our staff.

“We’re making plans to be ready when we’re given the green light,” Branch added.

Branch also said the OHL “would be hard-pressed to operate” without fans.

“There are a lot of factors around that, like for how long,” Branch said. “Our business model is predicated on spectator support and it’s the number one revenue stream we have. Without it, we would be hard-pressed to operate.”