On a day when the QMJHL shut down some teams until at least Oct. 28, the WHL announced that it has moved its proposed regular-season starting date from Dec. 4 to Jan. 8. . . . The WHL, which normally begins its regular season in late September, first said it would open on Oct. 2. It later changed that to Dec. 4. . . . If it is able to open on Jan. 8, the league’s 22 teams will play entirely within their divisions, although the Swift Current Broncos will move from the Central Division to the East Division to play with the four other Saskatchewan teams and two from Manitoba. . . . Players will be expected to report to their teams after Christmas for brief training camps. . . . The WHL also has added Dr. Dhiren Naidu, the NHL-Edmonton Oilers’ head team physician, as chief medical advisor. An associate professor at the U of Alberta, Dr. Naidu worked with the NHL during its time in the Edmonton bubble. His role with the WHL will be “to assist with the implementation of comprehensive health and safety protocols.” . . .
The pandemic has been ongoing for more than seven months now, and it is apparent that it is far from being over. That being said, the WHL has a lot of work ahead of it between now and Jan. 8. Here are a few things that have yet to be addressed publicly:
1. The WHL’s news release didn’t mention length of schedule;
2. It didn’t touch on how it will get Canadian players to the five U.S. Division teams with the U.S.-Canada border closed and not likely to be open by then. Although, as I understand it, Canadians are allowed to fly into the U.S., while non-essential travel across the border via vehicle isn’t allowed;
3. The Saskatchewan government has told curlers that they aren’t allowed to leave the province for competitions, nor will out-of-province competitors be allowed in. Presumably the WHL will have to deal with that regulation in some way;
4. Steve Ewen, who covers the Vancouver Giants for Postmedia, pointed out via Twitter: “There are five B.C. teams and viaSport rules have stated that you can play in cohorts of four. Be interesting to see if the WHL gained an exemption regarding that or what their plan is. Cohorts can be changed with a two-week break.” . . . Ewen later tweeted that he asked the WHL how it will deal with B.C.’s cohort regulations, and received this response: “We are continuing to work on those details and remain in conversation with the B.C. government. At this time, it has not been determined what cohorts will look like for the WHL in B.C.”
5. The WHL’s news release didn’t mention anything about testing or contact tracing;
6. The WHL has been adamant for months now that it can’t play unless it has the OK for its team to open up their facilities to at least 50 per cent of capacity. The last sentence of Wednesday’s seven-paragraph news release might indicate that the WHL no longer is prepared to die on that hill: “A final determination has not yet been made as to whether spectators will be permitted to attend WHL games as this will be subject to the approval of the Health Authorities in each jurisdiction.” . . . Could it be that the WHL is prepared to play in empty buildings?
7. Is the WHL attempting to get financial aid from any levels of federal, provincial or state governments?
Questions, questions, questions . . . some of which may not have answers.
One thing is for certain, though: The WHL will play when ’Rona says it will play, which is what the QMJHL is learning these days.
Meanwhile, the QMJHL has shut down its two Quebec-based divisions until at least Oct. 28. The six-team Maritime Division will continue to play, but with five teams because the Moncton Wildcats, who are in a government-declared orange zone, are limited to practising. . . . Six of the 12 Quebec-based teams are in red zone and have been shut down by government restrictions until month’s end. Two of the Quebec teams — the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada and the Sherbrooke Phoenix — had a combined 26 positive tests. . . . The QMJHL, which has had its teams playing strictly within their divisions, said it will reassess its situation in two weeks. . . . Mikaël Lalancette of TVA Sports wrote: “Behind the scenes, I have already been told that it would be astonishing to see the circuit activities resume in 14 days.”
When last heard from, the OHL said it was planning on opening its regular season on Dec. 1. However, that announcement was made on Aug. 5. . . . Since then, of course, Lisa MacLeod, Ontario’s Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries, has said that the OHL will have to get rid of body-checking and fighting if it is to return to play. She said: “It would be safe to say that body contact, unless it’s incremental, will not be permitted as a result of COVID-19. That would pose a challenge in terms of how they amend their play.” . . . I think it’s safe to say that negotiations are ongoing.
Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle touched on some truths about the virus in a Wednesday column, beginning with a reference to the NBA’s bubble success . . .
“As success stories go, this one was downright dangerous, offering hope in a pandemic when reality suggests nothing of the sort. It is now quite clear that nothing short of a carefully supervised bubble, free of positive tests for the coronavirus, is going to work in any sport in which athletes compete at close range.
“You’d think the football-crazed folks would get the picture, but instead we’re seeing all sorts of craziness in the NFL, the college game and surely throughout youth sports across the country. As they barge ahead through virus outbreaks, camp shutdowns, postponements and cancellations, they seem to treat positive tests as a minor inconvenience — a veritable sacrifice to the football gods. Fans are streaming back into many Power 5 conference stadiums, including the disturbing sight of some 24,000 people at Saturday’s Texas-Oklahoma game, sitting extremely close together and, in many cases, wearing masks only around their necks.”
That complete column is right here.
COVID-19 CHRONICLES . . .
BC Hockey has cancelled all of its provincial minor hockey championships for 2021. Under normal circumstances, BC Hockey would sanction 16 provincial championship tournaments in U-13, U-15, U-18 and U-21 age groups. . . . The pandemic also had resulted in the cancellation of 2020 championships last spring. . . . From a BC Hockey news release: “BC Hockey is making the proactive decision at this time to allow all Districts and leagues the flexibility needed to facilitate programming that best fits into the viaSport provincial guidelines regarding sport participation focusing on the safety and well-being of participants.” . . .
The North Central Hockey League has cancelled its 2020-21 season. The Senior AA league features teams in the Alberta communities of Blackfalds, Bonnyville, Daysland, Devon, Fort Saskatchewan, Lacombe, Morinville, Red Deer and Westlock. . . .
The NFL has cancelled the Pro Bowl that was to have been played in Las Vegas on Jan. 31. The league hopes to replace it with a virtual program, the details of which have yet to be detailed. . . . Cancelling the game also provides the NHL with a bit more scheduling space in case it needs to move regular-season games. . . .
Nick Saban, the head football coach at the U of Alabama, and Greg Byrne, the school’s athletic director, both have tested positive. . . . Upon getting his result, Saban, 68, said he “immediately left work and isolated at home.” . . . The No. 2 Crimson Tide is scheduled to play at home against the No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday. . . . Alabama played at Mississippi last Saturday. Lane Kiffin, the Runnin’ Rebels’ head coach, said Wednesday that his team has had some positive tests. . . .
Earlier in the week, the SEC postponed two games — LSU at No. 10 Florida and Vanderbilt at Missouri. . . . Florida has had 21 players and two assistant coaches test positive, and has suspended team activities. . . . Vanderbilt also has been hit by an outbreak and wouldn’t have enough scholarship athletes available to play. . . . There now have been 29 FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) games postponed. . . .
Members of Tornado Moscow Oblast, a Russian women’s hockey team, are in quarantine and six games have been postponed because of positive tests. . . .
Skate Canada International, part of figure skating’s Grand Prix circuit, has been cancelled. It had been scheduled for Oct. 30-31 in Ottawa and was to have taken place without fans. Organizers made the decision citing rising COVID-19 cases in Ontario. . . .
George Birger, a former athletic director at Brandon University, died on Saturday in Arizona. He was 91 and had tested positive. . . . The Brandon Sun has a thorough look back at Birger’s career right here.
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