If the WHL is to open its next regular season on Jan. 8, as it has announced that it plans on doing, its five B.C. Division teams will be on the sidelines unless provincial health officials loosen some restrictions.
Under those restrictions, which on Monday were extended through Jan. 8, junior hockey teams are prohibited from playing games. At the same time, players aged 19 and older aren’t allowed to practice, while those 18 and under are able to practice with restrictions.
If it is to open a regular season on Jan. 8, the WHL would want players to travel from their homes on Dec. 26 to join teams for training camps that would open on Dec. 27.
If you subscribe to The Athletic, you are able to follow the link in the tweet below to a story by Ryan S. Clark on what’s going on with the five teams in the WHL’s U.S. Division. . . . Spoiler alert: How does Vancouver Winterhawks sound? That would be Vancouver, Wash., of course. Hmmm . . .
In light of those restrictions being extended until Jan. 8 by the Provincial Health Office (PHO), the BCHL announced Monday evening that it has “decided to delay the start of its 2020-21 regular season to the new year.” It had hoped to begin its regular season tonight (Tuesday).
The last sentence of the BCHL’s news release: “If current restrictions are extended beyond midnight on Jan. 8, the league will come together and make a decision on when play can resume.”
In the meantime, you can bet that the BCHL will be putting even more work into a plan aimed at getting 17 teams into a bubble in Penticton, home of the Vees. If you’re a regular here, you read about it right here on Saturday night/Sunday morning.
In one scenario, all BCHL players would spend Jan. 15-29 in quarantine, then spend Jan. 29-31 moving into the Penticton bubble. The 17 teams would play a 20- or 24-game regular season from Feb. 1 through March 22, with a playoff tournament running March 23 to April 2.
Of course, there would be a lot more to this bubble than games.
For starters, the BCHL would have to find ways to keep more than 350 mostly teenagers entertained. They will have to be fed, have their laundry done, remote learning will have to be arranged and on and on.
The BCHL has chatted with the City of Penticton’s powers-that-be and reports that they are eager to help. Penticton also is home to a first-class arena — the South Okanagan Events Centre — and a roomy convention centre. I also am hearing that at least one Penticton hotel has offered to get involved.
In the convention centre, each of the 17 teams would be allotted about 2,000 square feet, which would provide room for about 30 beds and a team lounge of some kind. Beds/cots would be separated by curtains.
There also would be room for a study area, something that is most important because players would have to move to online learning. There also would be a quiet study area with ample power outlets and Internet access. Tutors would be made available, too.
As for feeding the ravenous teenagers, the facilities feature “multiple kitchens and concessions,” according to the draft of the BCHL proposal that Taking Note has seen, and the primary kitchen would be located in the SOEC. There also would be designated eating areas in which three squares would be served every day.
Players would be allowed to order in food “on occasion. Snacks and food orders to be delivered under strict protocols and paid for by the individual.”
There also would be game rooms that would include TV sets and various gaming units, theatre rooms with access to Netflix and laptops, and a recreation room that would include table tennis, bubble hockey, a pool table, air hockey and sports simulators.
In terms of outdoor activities, players would have access to a baseball diamond, basketball nets and a place to play road hockey. None of these facilities would be open to the public.
If approval for the plan is granted, the BCHL would arrange for players to have access to Zoom conferencing that would feature NCAA coaches, as well as former and current NHL players who might, for example, deal with life after hockey.
Of course, the teams would be in Penticton to train, practise and play hockey. Each team would have daily practice ice and likely three games per week with which to deal. There also would be a gym and training area with weights, bikes and other gear, with teams having assigned time slots for use.
What about scouts? If the project comes off, the BCHL is expecting NHL and NCAA scouts to flock to the games. There would be a safe area in the suite level, with access through a back entrance, that would allow them to come and go without having to bubble up. As well, teams would be designated suites with “absolutely zero tolerance for going down to the team or a lower level.”
And, of course, masks would be mandatory “at all times” for scouts, team governors, league officials, medical staff, etc.
Yes, there still is a long way to go before all of this would end up on the desk of provincial health officials. For example, a testing plan has to be structured, one that the BCHL said “will be determined by the PHO.”
Approval would have to come from government and health officials, as well as BC Hockey and Hockey Canada.
BTW, the BCHL now is pay-to-play, at least for this season, and players would pay $1,500 per month for February and March, which is what they already have paid for October and November.
Bob McKenzie, the semi-retired TSN Hockey Insider, rattled off a few texts on Monday, all of them with regards to the World Junior Championship. Here are a few of them, but in text form:
1. The 2021 IIHF World Jr. Championship is set to begin 2 weeks from this Friday (Dec. 25) in EDM in a restricted-access “bubble” format. All 10 teams are scheduled to “check in” Sunday, for a 4-day quarantine/daily-test period before being released into bubble Dec. 18.
2. Key for teams, obviously, is to try to get to the “start” line, which is this Sunday Dec. 13, when they are scheduled to report to EDM. All teams, starting today, are now in a seven-day closed preparation window. Only players currently in team camps today will be WJC eligible.
3. In order to “qualify” for Sunday’s admission to four-day quarantine/testing phase, all players must be tested three times in the current seven-day window and, obviously, test negative each time for Covid. Only then do they enter quarantine phase in their EDM hotel room.
4. If any player tests positive now, he’s out of the tournament and cannot be replaced from outside the current roster of players now in camp.
As of Monday night, McKenzie reported, “Hockey Canada is awaiting word any hour now from Alberta Health on how the remainder of this week will play out. Team Canada has been off ice/quarantined for two weeks after two players tested positive during training camp. Team Canada hopes to be back on the practice sometime today (Tuesday) in Red Deer.
McKenzie also tweeted: As I’ve said on multiple occasions, first major hurdle is to get all 10 teams — CAN, FIN, GER, SUI, SVK in one group; USA, SWE, RUS, CZE, AUS in the other group — plus the on-ice officials (all Canadian locals) to what amounts to a starting line, which is Sunday’s check-in day in EDM.
Another day means another positive test for a player who was expected to contribute to the Swedish team at the World Junior Championship. D William Wallinder is the third Swedish player to be knocked out of the tournament by a positive test. Wallinder, who was selected by the Detroit Red Wings with the first pick of the second round in the NHL’s 2020 draft, plays for Modo in the HockeyAllsvenskan and the team experienced a positive test last week.
Pekka Jalonen, a writer with the Helsinki newspaper Iltalehti, reports that the KHL continues to have issues with COVID-19.
Former NHLer Alexei Morozov, who is the KHL president, said that going into this week there were 21 people within the KHL with the virus, while 486 had recovered.
Jalonen wrote: “There are 23 teams in KHL, so on average there have already been 22 infected people in each club. There are still more than two and a half months left in the regular season, so it is likely that almost everyone on the KHL teams will get a coronavirus infection this season.”
The Finnish team Jokerit, which is in a stretch of playing eight of nine games on the road, “is currently on a long tour of Russia and have had just 22 infections this season. Not everyone infected has been a player. All of Jokerit’s infections have been detected after the team returned from a road trip to Russia.”
As expected, the ECHL had three more teams choose to opt out of the 2020-21 season on Monday. Players who had been on the rosters of the Cincinnati Cyclones, Idaho Steelheads and Kalamazoo K-Wings now are free agents for this season. All three organizations plan on returning to the ECHL next season. . . . Jeff Marek of Sportsnet tweeted on Sunday that the Toledo Walleye and Fort Wayne Komets “are still undecided.” . . . The ECHL now has had 11 of its 26 teams choose not to play this season. Some of the remaining teams are expected to begin playing games on Friday.
COVID-19 CHRONICLES . . .
From a family doctor based in Alberta . . .
CBC News: Manitoba has passed 400 deaths due to COVID-19 as 12 more people have died and there are 325 new cases, health officials say. The five-day test positivity rate is at 13.7 per cent province-wide and 14.6 for Winnipeg. There are 310 people in hospital due to the illness, down 38 from yesterday, with 39 people in intensive care, down from 43 on Sunday.
CBC News: 274 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Saskatchewan, dropping the province’s 7-day average to 308. There is also one additional death being attributed to the virus.
CBC News: Alberta reports 1,735 new COVID-19 cases and 16 additional deaths. 6 of these deaths are linked to outbreak at Edmonton Chinatown Care Centre.
Shelby Thom, Global Okanagan: B.C. recorded 2,020 new cases of COVID-19 over past 3 days with 35 deaths. . . . 647 COVID-19 cases and 17 deaths from Friday to Saturday. . . . 726 cases and 10 deaths from Saturday to Sunday. . . . 647 cases from Sunday to Monday along with seven deaths.
CBC News: Ontario reported a single-day high of 1,925 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, following two consecutive days of record numbers over the weekend. . . . Ontario’s 7-day average for new cases ticks up to 1,820, the highest it has been at any point during the pandemic. 725 people in Ontario are hospitalized with COVID-19, 213 are in ICU and 121 are on a ventilator.
CBC News: Quebec adds 1,577 new COVID-19 cases, which moves the province’s 7-day average up slightly to 1,543. Health authorities also report 22 additional deaths.
Medford Mail Tribune: The Oregon Health Authority reported 12 more deaths from COVID-19 Monday and 1,331 new cases, pushing statewide totals to 1,045 deaths and 85,788 cases.
euronews.com: Italy bans Christmas travel and midnight mass after nearly 1,000 people die in one day.
The Toronto Raptors revealed Monday morning that three members of their organization have tested positive as they open training camp in Tampa, Fla. . . . The team didn’t disclose whether they were players or staff, but they have been put into isolation away from other personnel. . . . On Sunday, the Portland Trail Blazers shut things down after getting three positive tests, one involving a player. The Trail Blazers’ camp is in Portland; the Raptors moved to Tampa because the U.S.-Canada border remains closed to non-essential travel. . . . The San Francisco Chronicle reported that F Draymond Green and C James Wiseman of the Golden State Warriors tested positive last week, so missed the team’s first practice of training camp on Monday. Wiseman was the second overall selection in last month’s NBA draft. . . .
The NFL’s Carolina Panthers placed eight players on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Monday. That included DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel, two of their top wideouts. As a result, the Panthers shut down their facility for Monday and Tuesday. . . . The Panthers are scheduled to play the Denver Broncos on Sunday. . . .
Texas A&M won’t be playing Ole Miss in an SEC football game on Saturday, as the latter is having COVID-19 issues. The game had been rescheduled from Nov. 21 when it was postponed because A&M was having issues. . . .
The U of Wisconsin Badgers men’s hockey team has had to postponed games against the Michigan State Spartans that were to have been played today and Wednesday. The Badgers have a positive test. . . . Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s women’s team has postponed its next two series, scheduled for Dec. 11-12 and Dec. 18-19, because of COVID-19 protocols. By Dec. 19, Wisconsin will have played two if its eight scheduled games. . . .
Here is Pittsburgh men’s basketball coach Jeff Capel to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Monday: “These kids are away (from their families) and they’re out and they’re laying it on the line to entertain people. Something just doesn’t feel right about it right now. The numbers were what they were back in March. I look at it every day, man. It seems like every day it’s getting worse. I don’t know why you cancel it in March, but you say it’s OK to do it right now. But what do I know?”
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