WHL makes “commitment” for 24-game schedule; no starting date yet . . . Virus finds Dallas Stars . . . Former WHL coach added to Coyotes’ staff

The WHL’s board of governors chatted on Friday, after which the league announced that it had “made a commitment” to play a 24-game 2021 season.

The news release stated: “The start date for the season will be determined once WHL2final approval has been received from the health authorities in each provincial and state jurisdiction and it is anticipated the approvals will be received soon.”

In other words, there isn’t anything new for a league that has announced starting dates of Oct. 2, Dec. 4 and Jan. 8, only to watch COVID-19 make those goals impossible to reach. The WHL and its fans continue to play the waiting game as they have for almost 10 months now.

As I have written here on numerous occasions, the virus will decide if/when the WHL and other leagues will play, and let’s be honest — short of announcing that it was cancelling the season, what else could the WHL say?

On Dec. 15, when it announced that a Jan. 8 start date wouldn’t be happening, the league said the governors would “meet in January to consider potential start dates.”

That is the meeting that took place on Friday.

When the WHL states that it needs final approval from health officials and that “it is anticipated the approvals will be received soon,” you are free to wonder if someone in the Calgary-based office has some inside information. Again, though, what else would the WHL be expected to say?

But the coronavirus-based numbers in the six jurisdictions in which the WHL operates haven’t exactly provided anyone with warm and fuzzy feelings of late. (See The COVID-19 Chronicles further down in this piece.)

You also wonder if the governors started their meeting yesterday by discussing DallasStarsgoings-on in the NHL where the Dallas Stars shut things down after six players and two staff members tested positive, and the Columbus Blue Jackets held 17 players out of practice.

The Stars were to have opened the NHL’s regular season against the host Florida Panthers on Jan. 14, but that obviously won’t happen. In fact, the Stars also have had to postpone two others games — Jan. 15 at Florida and Jan. 17 at the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Stars’ first game now is scheduled for Jan. 19 in Tampa Bay.

In the meantime, the Stars players and staff who tested positive are self-isolating and the team’s training facilities are closed.

The Blue Jackets, who are scheduled to open on Jan. 14 against the Predators in Nashville, held 17 of 38 players off the ice “out of an abundance of caution and in accordance with NHL COVID-19 protocols.”

Aaron Portzline, who covers the Blue Jackets for The Athletic, tweeted that the non-practising players were: forwards Emil Bemstrom, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Max Domi, Nick Foligno, Nathan Gerbe, Liam Foudy, Mikhail Grigorenko, Boone Jenner, Mikko Koivu, Eric Robinson, Alexandre Texier, and defencemen Adam Clendening, Vladislav Gavrikov, Seth Jones, David Savard, Andrew Peeke, Michael Del Zotto.

After discussing the NHL situation, maybe the WHL govs talked a bit about NCAA hockey where a number of schools have found out that their hockey teams have been bitten by COVID-19.

Nothing explains all of what has happened better than the National Collegiate NCHCHockey Conference (NCHC). It took eight teams into Omaha in early December and played 38 games. They didn’t call it a bubble; rather, it was a pod. Teams were limited to their hotel and the arena. There was regular testing; there weren’t any positive tests.

However, once that experience was over and the teams returned home, well, the virus licked its lips and went to work.

The U of Omaha has been unable to play four straight games against North Dakota, including two scheduled for this weekend. Mike Kemp, an associate athletic director at Omaha, told The Associated Press: “We got it in spades.”

Elsewhere in the world of NCAA men’s hockey, Lowell’s program is on pause and at least its next three games are off the schedule; Canisius has put things on hold due to protocols and contact tracing; Michigan Tech had to put things on hold after positive tests in its program earlier this week; Northern Michigan has been able to play six games, while having eight postponed or cancelled . . . and on and on it goes.

Where it stops . . . only the virus knows.


F Logan Stankoven of the Kamloops Blazers told CFJC-TV’s Chad Klassen that he is looking at going to the USHL.

“I know nothing’s been confirmed yet, but I’ve talked to Fargo Force from down in the States,” Stankoven, 17, said. “I think they’re pretty interested in me, maybe having me come down, but obviously nothing’s set in stone.”

The USHL deadline to add Hockey Canada-released players to team rosters is Sunday. Klassen reported that should Stankoven go that route, he would be required to spend the remainder of the season there.

“As much as I don’t want to head down to the States and play for a whole different team and in a whole different country, things got to be done,” Stankoven said. “It’s part of our development and players need to play hockey. It’s our life. As much as people say it’s not our job, it’s part of our job. It’s our careers.”

You wonder what impact, if any, the WHL’s Friday news release might have on Stankoven’s decision.

Earlier this week, the Dubuque Fighting Saints announced that they were adding F Matt Savoie, 16, of the Winnipeg Ice to their roster. The Fighting Saints played Friday night — they lost 5-2 to the host Youngstown Phantoms — but Savoie has yet to be placed on their roster.


At least two B.C. junior B leagues — the Kootenay International and Vancouver Island leagues — had hoped to return to regular-season play on Jan. 15. However, those hopes were dashed on Thursday when the B.C. government and health officials extended a series of province-wide restrictions until Feb. 5. . . . The junior A BCHL now is talking about starting its regular season on Feb. 8. . . . Steve Ewen of Postmedia tweeted that the BCHL couldn’t get approval for its Penticton hub idea from health officials so that idea is dead.


THE COVID-19 CHRONICLES . . .

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CJOB Radio, Winnipeg: As Manitoba announced nine additional COVID-19-related deaths Friday, the province’s top doctor said hundreds of recent cases have been linked to gatherings over the holidays.

Scott Billeck, Winnipeg Sun: From the province: 355 cases and 1,900 contacts from holiday gatherings to date.

CBC News: Saskatchewan is reporting 336 new cases of COVID-19 and 7 new deaths related to the illness. It’s the highest daily case count since Dec. 6. There are currently 180 COVID-19 patients in the province’s hospitals, including 26 people in intensive care.

Jason Herring, Postmedia: Here are Friday’s COVID-19 Alberta stats: 1,183 new cases (total now 109,652) . . . 24 new deaths (total now 1,241) . . . 851 currently in hospital, 135 in ICU (yesterday: 871 in hospital, 139 in ICU) . . . 13,628 active cases (up from 13,298) . . . 16,765 tests conducted (~7.1% positive).

Justin McElory, CBC Vancouver: 617 new cases of COVID-19 announced in B.C. on Friday, a big drop from Thursday but part of a small rise since Christmas. . . . 18 new deaths, the highest number since Dec. 23. . . . Hospitalizations and active cases down.

Tacome News Tribune: The Washington state Department of Health reported 4,829 new cases of COVID-19 and 65 deaths Friday. . . . Statewide totals from the illness caused by the coronavirus are 268,607 cases and 3,699 deaths. The case total includes 11,160 cases listed as probable. Those numbers are up from 263,778 cases and 3,634 deaths on Thursday.

Daily Hive Portland: The Oregon Health Authority has reported 1,755 new and presumptive COVID-19 cases and seven new deaths. The state has now seen a total of 122,847 COVID-19 cases, and the death toll has risen to 1,575.

Public Health Agency of Canada, Friday, 4 p.m. PT — People tested: 15,420,760 . . . Total cases: 644,348 . . . Active cases: 81,670 . . . Recovered: 545,971 . . . Deaths: 16,707.

CNN, Friday, 3 p.m. PT: 368,000 people in the United States have died from coronavirus.

CNN, Friday, 3 p.m. PT: 21.8 million people in the United States have tested positive for coronavirus.

AFP News Agency, Friday, 8 p.m. PG: US sets new record with nearly 290,000 Covid cases in 24 hours: Johns Hopkins.

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Curling Alberta has cancelled its 2021 men’s, women’s and mixed doubles championships “due to Alberta’s continued state of public health emergency.” All were to have been held in Sylvan Lake, Jan. 25 to Feb. 5. . . .

With the B.C. government and health officials having extended various restrictions, including one restricting adult team sport, through Feb. 5, Curl BC has cancelled the men’s and women’s championships that had been scheduled for Kamloops and the mixed doubles event that was to have been held in Chilliwack. . . .

Holly Rowe, a veteran ESPN sideline reporter, revealed on Friday that she has tested positive, meaning she won’t be working on Monday when Alabama and Ohio State meet in the college football championship game in Miami. . . . Rowe admitted to having some symptoms and not feeling great. . . . She also is a cancer survivor, having battled melanoma. . . .

The Maine Red Claws, a G League men’s basketball team affiliated with the NBA’s Boston Celtics, have opted out of the 2021 season. . . .

Mike Lange, the veteran play-by-play voice of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, won’t start the approaching NHL season out of an abundance of caution. He says he’ll be back once he is able to be vaccinated and when he feels it is safe to return. Lange, who will turn 73 in March, missed the 2019 playoffs due to pneumonia. . . .

Kurt Warner, an analyst with the NFL Network, announced Friday night that he has tested positive so won’t be working on any studio shows this weekend. Warner, 49, has been with the NFL Network for 10 years. . . . Also on the NFL broadcast front, NBC’s Mike Tirico will call the play of the Tampa Bay-Washington game from home because of COVID-19 protocols, while CBS-TV’s Tony Romo will provide analysis of the Chicago-New Orleans game from a remote site for the same reason.


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Or, for more information, visit right here.


JUST NOTES: Former WHL coach Jay Varady, who is the head coach of the AHL’s Tucson Roadrunners, has been added to the coaching staff of the parent Arizona Coyotes. Varady, 43, spent seven seasons (2003-10) on the coaching staff of the Everett Silvertips. He had been the Roadrunners’ head coach for two seasons. . . . The NHL’s San Jose Sharks has left K-FOX, its play-by-play station since 2020-21, and now will stream its games on the Sharks Audio Network, available on the team’s website and app. . . . Lethbridge has been chosen as the host city for the 2022 Tim Hortons Brier (aka the Canadian men’s curling championship). It is scheduled to run March 4-13, which means the Hurricanes will be out of the Enmax Centre for a couple of weeks in the waning days of the WHL’s 2021-22 season.

Scattershooting on a Monday night while wondering who wants to be a Millionaire . . .

Scattershooting

The Edmonton Oil Kings are the first of the WHL’s 22 teams to acknowledge making procedural changes to their operation due to COVID-19.

On Monday, the Oil Kings announced changes to “team interactions and in-game EdmontonOilKingsexperiences in an effort to best protect the health of our players, staff and fans.”

From a news release:

“After careful deliberation, the in-game concourse carnival and post-game team autograph session on Family Fun Sunday, March 15 vs. the Lethbridge Hurricanes, as well as first-intermission player autographs on Saturday, March 21 vs. the Red Deer Rebels, will be cancelled.

“The Chuck-A-Puck also won’t be sold during the final two games of the regular season and duration of the playoffs.”

Those games are the Oil Kings’ final home games of the regular season.


The NHL’s San Jose Sharks are working on how they will deal with a mandatory ban by Santa Clara County, the home of the SAP Center, on events that will draw more than NHL1,000 people.

The county announced the ban on Monday evening after reporting its first coronavirus-related death.

The ban is to begin at midnight Wednesday and last for at least three weeks. The Sharks have three home games scheduled for that time period, including against the Montreal Canadiens on March 19, while the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda have two games scheduled.

County officials have said they would allow teams to play without any fans present. As of late Monday night, it wasn’t known how the Sharks and/or the NHL will respond.

The San Jose Mercury News reported that “the ban is one of the most sweeping precautionary measures put in place by any region in the country. . . .”


The Canadian Press reported Monday that the Quebec government is contemplating whether to allow the world figure skating championships to proceed at Montreal’s Bell Centre.

The championships are scheduled to run from March 16 through March 22.

“We have to do a case-by-case analysis of the events, but we are aware that we need to make a decision rapidly concerning (the Worlds) . . . What I want to say is a decision needs to be taken as quickly as possible,” Danielle McCann, Quebec’s health minister, told CP.

A statement from Skate Canada read: “The event is scheduled to take place as planned.”

Meanwhile, the world women’s curling championship, which is to open Saturday in Prince George, is going ahead, at least as of Monday night.

Should the figure skating or curling events be cancelled, it would be another major hit to Canada’s sporting scene after the International Ice Hockey Federation decided Saturday to cancel the world women’s championship that was to be played in Halifax and Truro, N.S., from March 31 through April 10.

CP has more on all of this right here.


The NBA, MLB, NHL and MLS issued a statement on Monday regarding dressing room access:

“After consultation with infectious disease and public health experts, and given the issues that can be associated with close contact in pre- and post-game settings, all team locker rooms and clubhouses will be open only to players and essential employees of teams and team facilities until further notice. Media access will be maintained in designated locations outside of the locker room and clubhouse setting. These temporary changes will be effective beginning with (Tuesday’s) games and practices.

“We will continue to closely monitor this situation and take any further steps necessary to maintain a safe and welcoming environment.”

As I mentioned here the other day, dressing room access isn’t an issue with the WHL as it limited media access almost 20 years ago.

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Elsewhere . . .

The San Francisco Unified School District, which includes about 55,000 students, has cancelled all “non-essential events” for two weeks. That includes all games and practices for teams in the district. . . .

Pearl Jam has postponed all of the North American dates on its Gigaton tour that was to open March 18 in Toronto and end in Oakland on April 19. The band wrote in a statement: “It certainly hasn’t helped that there’s been no clear messages from our government regarding people’s safety and our ability to go to work. Having no examples of our national health department’s ability to get ahead of this, we have no reason to believe that it will be under control in the coming weeks ahead.” . . . Pearl Jam still has European dates on its summer schedule, at least for now. . . . Khalid, BTS, Green Day, Avril Lavigne, The National, New Order, Old Dominion and Madonna are among entertainers who also have cancelled or postponed dates. . . .

The Republic of Ireland has cancelled St. Patrick’s Day festivities, including the annual St. Patrick’s Day festival parade that usually draws about 500,000 people to the streets of Dublin on March 17. . . . At the time the cancellation was announced, there were 19 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Republic of Ireland. . . . Also on Monday, Boston announced the cancellation of its St. Patrick’s Day parade, while New York City said that it didn’t have any plans to cancel its parade. . . .

Starting today (Tuesday), Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, two if the biggest game shows on TV, will tape without studio audiences. . . . On top of everything else, Jeopardy host Alex Trebek is battling pancreatic cancer and has a compromised immune system. . . .

On Monday, golf writer Robert Lusetich tweeted: “I’m told officials from the PGA Tour and PGA are discussing a contingency plan that could move the PGA Championship from Harding Park in San Francisco to TPC Sawgrass” in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. The tournament is scheduled to run from May 14 through May 17. . . .

Nippon Professional Baseball has announced the postponement of the start of Japan’s season. Scheduled to open on March 20, the league now is aiming for mid-April. . . . Spring training games have been happening as scheduled, but without fans in the stands.


I have to tell you . . . this made me laugh . . .


The SJHL’s Melville Millionaires are looking for a general manager and head coach to replace Kyle Adams, who was released Feb. 26. He had finished one year of his two-year contract. If you’ve ever wanted to be a Millionaire, the job description is right here.