OHL pushes back start date; Brochu invited to national junior camp

The Ontario Hockey League officially announced Thursday the start date for the 2020-21 season has been delayed to Thursday, Feb. 4.

London Knights goalie Brett Brochu. (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

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Making the OHL playoffs will be a bigger challenge than usual this season.

The Ontario Hockey League officially announced Thursday the start date for the 2020-21 season has been delayed to Thursday, Feb. 4.

After a 40-game regular season, only eight teams – half as many as normal – will make the playoffs.

“Obviously, it’s been a very different off-season with no one ever thinking we’d be starting an OHL season in February and having this much time off, but that’s just how it’s been,” Spitfires defenceman Grayson Ladd of Kent Bridge said to the Windsor Star. “We have had such a long off-season that, hopefully, we get to have a season so the hard work pays off.

“At the same time, it’s exciting to see the OHL have a plan for us to start and still play 40 games in a shorter period of time and, I think, with the eight-team playoff, the season will be even more exciting and intense just because there’s limited playoff spots this year. You work so hard as a team all year to make the playoffs, so it should be a really fun year, this year, if the plan sticks to what they say.”

Training camps can begin Saturday, Jan. 23. Teams will reportedly be allowed to play one exhibition game.

Camps will be roughly half as long as normal.

“A little bit shorter,” Sarnia Sting general manager Dylan Seca said, “but then again it’s that type of year. To be honest, I’m just happy. I don’t care. If it was one day, I’d be ecstatic because it’s just a matter of, ‘Let’s get together and let’s get at it.’”

After an extended off-season, he isn’t worried about the players’ fitness and conditioning at an abbreviated camp.

“They’ve had the obvious opportunity to be in peak physical shape,” Seca said. “I think it’ll be a matter of getting them up to speed and used to that tempo. But everyone’s in the same boat, though. If it was unique to us I might have a different opinion of it, but it’s everybody.”

The 68-game season typically starts in September, but this year’s start date for a 64-game schedule was originally set for Dec. 1 because of the pandemic.

Sting players were OK to hear the date was pushed back another two months, Seca said.

“Surprisingly they’re all really positive,” he said. “They’re super excited to get playing hockey and get back in front of the fans. Even the call (Wednesday night) with the news, I was anticipating they might have a little bit of a bleak perspective, but they were the opposite. They were positive and excited.

“It’s a great group of kids, it is. I’m really excited to get them back together.”

Teams will play mainly against opponents in their geographic region. The OHL wants to reduce travel to help protect the health and safety of players and staff.

The alignment of teams has not been announced.

The OHL’s updated return-to-play plan also doesn’t mention if fans can attend games and what will happen to the three American teams if the Canada-U.S. border remains closed to non-essential travel.

The OHL has not released the schedule or the trade deadline.

The regular season will end Saturday, May 8, and the playoffs will start Tuesday, May 11. The first of three playoff rounds will be a best-of-five, followed by two best-of-seven rounds.

The OHL champion must be crowned by Monday, June 14. The Memorial Cup is scheduled to begin Thursday, June 17, in either Oshawa or Sault Ste. Marie.

Brochu invited to junior camp

London Knights goalie Brett Brochu of Tilbury was invited Thursday to Canada’s national junior team selection camp to be held Nov. 16 to Dec. 13 in Red Deer, Alta.

Players at the 46-man camp will be trying to make Team Canada for the 2021 world junior championship that begins Christmas Day in Edmonton.

Brochu, a former Dresden Jr. King, was first in goals-against average (2.40), second in save percentage (.919) and tied for second in wins in the OHL last season..

He went 32-6-0-0 with two shutouts while setting the OHL record for the most wins in a season by a 16- or 17-year-old rookie. He won 22 of his last 23 decisions.

He took part in the national junior team’s summer development camp.

The selection camp roster includes 11 forwards, five defencemen and two goalies from the OHL.