The World Junior Championships and the resumption of NHL play have hockey back on the agenda and in their hometowns, but local junior hockey remains in limbo.
Neither the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League (Elmira Sugar Kings) nor Provincial Junior Hockey League (Wellesley Applejacks) has a timeline for play to resume.
The most recent province-wide lockdown that started December 26 forced the GOJHL to push back a plan to start in mid-January. For the PJHL, a proposed February 1 start is again on hold.
“We’re continuing to monitor the situation and if there is an opportunity to return safely and following the guidelines of our governing bodies and the health units, we would love to [get the season started]. I don’t know if that’s going to happen, [but] there’s always a slim hope for that,” said PJHL commissioner Terry Whiteside. “The way numbers are right now, I don’t anticipate that at the end of this lockdown they’re gonna say ‘okay you’re free to go.’ I would think it’s going to drag on and every day that it drags on it just makes a slimmer opportunity for not only our league, but for every other league right up to the OHL [to get back to playing].”
This is the third delay to the start of the PHJL season which was originally targeting a start date of December 1, in August.
While the lockdown being lifted is a good sign for both leagues that things may be able to move forward, it does not necessarily mean that things will be back on track and that a season can begin.
Whiteside also said they must get approval from government, local health officials, and governing bodies of hockey. This holds true for the GOJHL as well.
GOJHL commissioner Mark Tuck says he’s still unable to say what the future holds for the season. Once the province is out of lockdown, the league will be able to decide the future of the season as there are too many variables at play right now.
“At this time, nothing can be determined until after lockdown. There are still too many variables in play, and we are unable to come to a concrete decision at this time,” said Tuck. “We have to follow the rules of the public health units and arena facilities, so at this time, we will not know our fate until after the lockdown is lifted. It’s too early in the lockdown to gauge if it will be lifted by the proposed end date or be extended.”
Jeff Snyder, director of hockey operations with the Elmira Sugar Kings, says the team still doesn’t have a handle on when play will resume. With the lockdown – the fifth of the province’s five-level ranking system – there’s a long way to go before restrictions have been eased enough for hockey to be played, he added.
“It’s really hard to predict when we’ll be able to get back to play because, from what I understand, we’d have to get all the way back to a yellow zone, which would allow you to have 50 players on the ice, which would accommodate two teams, but it’s pretty hard to gauge where we’re at as far as that goes,” said Snyder. “I think it’s all up for negotiation to see how we could possibly get this underway to safely have games. … I think we’ll have to decide at some point when is it too late to start the season, but I don’t think we’re there yet. We’re still hopeful that things are going to get better here and that hopefully we can get our players back on the ice and get going.”
Snyder says the league is doing everything they can and have made it their priority to “exhaust all options” to ensure the season can start and teams can hit the ice.