Exactly what the Ontario Hockey League will look like when it returns remains to be seen.
Ontario’s Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries, Lisa MacLeod, said in a Zoom meeting with reporters on Wednesday afternoon that body checking remains something that is a concern as the league looks to a return in December.
“It would be safe to say that body contact, unless it’s incremental, will not be permitted as a result of COVID-19,” MacLeod said. “That would pose a challenge in terms of how they amend their play.”
MacLeod added that a regional approach hasn’t been discussed with regards to teams in areas not considered hot zones potentially being able to play.
The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League opened regular season action over the weekend.
After going through training camp with no issues in September, the league has run into some issues as the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada had 18 members of the team – a mix of players and team staff – test positive for COVID-19.
Players and staff have been placed in isolation for 14 days and the league has had to make some schedule adjustments as a result.
MacLeod said the OHL has “adapted to robust and strict rules and return to play protocols.”
“We continue to monitor what’s happening in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League as well as other places around the world where there has been a return to play,” MacLeod added.
MacLeod said the OHL is currently in the process of submitting a request with its return to play protocols.
“They will provide us with their return to play protocols that will go to the health command table,” MacLeod said. “The health command table will then work with my ministry to see if it’s meeting the level of standard that would be required for a safe return to play. It would be safe to say that that won’t be happening over the next four weeks because the province has put a pause on additional reopenings and that would impact the OHL.”
MacLeod said working with the OHL on what a return would look like hasn’t been an issue.
“We work incredibly well with them,” MacLeod said, adding that league commissioner David Branch has been a part of ministerial advisory committees. “They’ve really been a great group to work with.”
“Where we were on the 11th of March compared to where we were on the 12th of June compared to where we are at today has continually changed,” MacLeod added. “None of this is predictable. They have been very reasonable to work with.”
The league hasn’t commented on discussions with the government regarding a potential return to play.
Asked about the possibility of the league using a similar bubble model to that of the NHL, MacLeod said that it wouldn’t be the “preferred route.”
MacLeod said as well that the league has not requested financial aid, nor has it been offered at this point by the government.
The league had set a target of Dec. 1 for the open of its regular season with training camps opening on Nov. 15.
“We continue to work with the league to see what a safe return to play looks like,” MacLeod said.
“Obviously the goal is for December 1st, but public health officials will make the final determination,” MacLeod added. “The province has indicated, based on the advice of Dr. David Williams, we will not be doing any further reopening’s into the Ontario economy or sports for a four-week pause as we deal with the second wave.”