Ontario Hockey League officials were optimistic that starting regular season action in early-December was a possibility.
With a spike in COVID-19 cases across the province this fall and the closure of the border between Canada and the United States extended at least until Nov. 21, the league has pushed back its potential start date well into the new year.
In a release issued Thursday, the league has announced a start date of Feb. 4 with players reporting to training camp on Jan. 22 and camps opening the following day.
With European and American players expected to follow the two-week quarantine period, those players will be reporting by Jan. 8.
The dates were confirmed in a meeting with OHL general managers on Wednesday.
“Now you can start to think about how training camp might shape out,” Greyhounds general manager Kyle Raftis said. “It’s tough on everybody, but especially with players especially, they like to ramp up their training in a certain way to get to camp. It’s tough when you’re not sure. Mentally, in a regular year, are you in July right now or June just in terms of how you would pace out your training. You don’t want to burn guys out. It will help on that side of it.”
“Hopefully we can be an asset in terms of helping their development while they’re still doing their own workouts and training on the ice at home because it’s been a long time since we’ve all been on the ice together,” Raftis added. “Everybody is in the same boat, so we have to make the best of it.”
The playoff structure will also look very different as just eight teams will advance into playoff action in 2020-21 instead of the usual 16, meaning the top four teams in each conference will earn playoff spots.
As for the regular season schedule, the league is planning for 40 games and limited travel as much as possible.
In a release from the league, the plan will be for teams to play primarily against teams in their geographic region.
Details on team alignment are expected to be announced when the league releases its schedule.
The closure of the border between Canada and the United States as well as the possibility of fans attending games were not addressed in the league release and were reportedly not discussed at Thursday’s meeting of general managers.
The OHL isn’t the first Canadian Hockey League member league to push back starting until 2021.
Earlier this month, the Western Hockey League announced plans to open regular season action on Jan. 8 in what commissioner Ron Robison called a firm date.
In a Zoom meeting with reporters shortly after the announcement, Robison said the regular season would run until May 2, which would allow the league to play a schedule of up to 50 games.
“The number of games will be determined over the next number of weeks,” Robison said at the time.
Robison said the approach to calling Jan. 8 a hard date was “to create some certainty around the start of the season.”
“We had announced already two tentative target dates,” Robison added. “This is not a tentative date. This is a firm date.”
As for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, regular season action is underway, but there have been some bumps in the road along the way.
The QMJHL regular season began on Oct. 2 with teams playing only opponents within their six-team division.
On Oct. 14, the league announced that teams in the two Quebec-based divisions had their games postponed until at least Oct. 28 as a number of teams were in provincial red zones. The Maritimes Division has continued to play since then.
Some teams are returning to play this weekend after the two-week pause.
Three teams in the league have had cases since the start of the regular season, though training camps and exhibition games were played in September without issue.