Because when the alternative is no hockey at all for a whole year, literally anything is better. And when you take the safety of everyone involved into consideration, it’s the best choice imaginable.
The WHL announced Thursday that the season start would be pushed back Dec. 4 as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be an issue throughout Canada and the U.S., with the season carrying into April and playoffs beginning in May.
“I think it’s a real good plan, and there’s a lot of confidence that we’ll be playing in December,” said Warriors general manager Alan Millar. “Certainly we need to do it under the right guidelines and the return to play protocols that our league is working with government and health authorities on. But I believe our league is in a good place, we’re motivated to play in December and motivated to play a 68-game schedule, with the Memorial Cup pushed back until June and the regular season extended through April.”
Back when the pandemic was in its infancy and little was known as to how long it might last, thoughts were that games could begin as early as October, with a slightly more compact schedule, but business as usual. That would mean a close-to-normal start date for training camps and the like, something that simply couldn’t happen at this point given the widespread nature of the disease.
“It just wasn’t possible with the best interest of our players and staff and officials and fans and their health and safety,” Millar said.
The schedule itself has yet to be drawn up, with plans in that direction taking shape in the coming weeks.
An additional factor will be just how things will work for the U.S. teams and players from across the border. With the COVID-19 pandemic considered to be widespread and unchecked throughout the country, concerns exist as to if border crossing will even be allowed if things haven’t improved dramatically.
That’s a bridge that will be crossed when the time comes, says Millar.
“Our league has said from the get-go that we want to start as a league, and our league is 22 teams,” he said. “We realize there are different challenges province-to-province and state-to-state, and with the season pushed back to give us some more time to deal with some of those challenges will help. There’s a lot of player travel and player movement, American players into Canada, Canadian players into U.S. markets, the travel of import players, and that all goes hand-in-hand with the season being pushed back and having protocols in place for the return-to-play.”
The players themselves have been informed of the start date, with the only difference there being the length of time they’ll have away from the game and prepare for the new campaign.
“They have been updated and they understan. They know we have the intent of starting in December and playing a full schedule,” Millar said. “Our players will continue to work at home with on-ice and off-ice training and we’ll look at how we work with them when it comes to preparing for the season when they arrive in Moose Jaw. Those are all details that as general managers and owners we’ll be looking at in the near future.”