Team officials in the Provincial Junior Hockey League say many questions still need to be answered before the season's tentative start date of Dec. 1.
The Provincial Junior Hockey League has pencilled in Dec. 1 for opening night.
However, team GMs caution fans to keep an eraser handy because many questions still need to be answered in the next three months.
“We’re happy that we’re going to get to play, hopefully,” Wallaceburg Thunderhawks general manager and head coach Ken Shine said. “I wished it was sooner, but Dec. 1 is better than no season.”
The return-to-play plans during the COVID-19 pandemic are subject to approval from government, local health and Hockey Canada officials, the PJHL said in a news release.
“We’d like to get going, but it’s got to be safe, too,” Shine said. “I don’t want the kids, us or our fans to be jeopardized.”
Teams will play at least 24 regular-season games apiece, followed by playoffs leading to the Schmalz Cup championship.
Dec. 1 is a tentative starting date. If the season doesn’t begin by the first week of January, it won’t start at all, Blenheim Blades general manager Bob Price said.
“We’ve got a date to at least focus on now,” Price said. “We’ve just got to get permission to have tryouts. That’s our next hurdle.”
Teams can’t host tryouts yet. They can only hold non-contact workouts and skill sessions for players who are already signed.
Still to be determined are how many fans will be allowed at games.
Teams may sit out the season if they can’t have spectators, said Dresden Kings general manager Jason Badder.
“Every team in this league needs fans to play,” he said. “And if we can’t have fans, then it’s going to be very difficult for teams to play.”
Badder predicts some teams will opt out and return for the 2021-22 season.
Many teams have enough money for only one season at a time, he said. They find sponsors in the off-season, use that money to begin the season, and then use gate receipts and 50/50 draws to operate during the season.
“There’s no sense bankrupting an organization to play a 24-game schedule,” Badder said. “For what reason? You’re there for the community. … If they can’t come watch it, what’s the point of even playing?”
The Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League is reportedly asking to play with 30-per-cent capacity in the stands. Some PJHL team officials told the Daily News that number is acceptable for them as well.
“We’ve got our AGM (annual general meeting) coming up in a couple weeks, so I’m sure all that will be discussed at our AGM,” Price said.
The reopening of schools could help to determine whether junior hockey returns, Shine said.
“If the kids go back to school and it’s a (mess) again, I can’t see us playing hockey,” he said.
Much depends on whether local medical officers of health even allow junior hockey to be played, Badder said. And, he asked, what happens if players test positive for COVID-19? And how will fans be screened at arenas?
“There’s a lot of unknowns,” he said. “There’s so many questions yet that have to be answered. Right now, there’s not really any answers.”
The Kings won’t be looking for sponsors this season, Badder said.
“We’re not going to ask the community to support us when they’re having such hard times,” he said. “… You can’t go ask businesses that haven’t been open for half the year to give us $500.”
The Mooretown Flags and Lakeshore Canadiens were set to face off in the PJHL Stobbs Division final last season when play was stopped in mid-March.
The Ontario Hockey League has announced a Dec. 1 start date for this season. The GOJHL is aiming for a Dec. 2 start.
“There’s no way any of us play before the OHL plays, I don’t think,” Badder said about junior B and C teams. “If the OHL ends up pushing back again, then I think we all push back.”