Junior hockey leagues throughout Ontario have been working on various proposals relative to a return to play at some point in the 2020-2021 season.
Under the Canadian Jr. Hockey League umbrella there are four junior A leagues that are based in Ontario. They are the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League, the Central Canada Hockey League, the Ontario Jr. Hockey League and the Superior International Jr. Hockey League.
The province is also home to the Ontario Hockey League, which is part of the major junior level, Canadian Hockey League.
Amateur hockey across Canada has been in a shutdown since early March when the COVID-19 pandemic forced cancellation of play for the remainder of the 2019-2020 season.
At any rate, to be sure, commissioners and executives from the various Ontario junior leagues have been both busy and creative of late in drawing up separate, lengthy, return to play proposals to send to, among others, the province’s chief medical officer of health.
Safety for all involved in the game, including players, coaches, referees and fans is obviously paramount and at the top of any and all lists.
Among the issues facing the respective leagues and teams is bus travel and overnight stays in hotels.
Another potential obstacle is that all of the aforementioned junior leagues — with the exception of the Ottawa area based CCHL — have teams that are located in the United States. (And at present, the Canada-United States border is closed to non essential travel.)
Taking a look at the NOJHL, the 11 team league could eliminate — or drastically cut down — on overnight stays in hotels by playing games among divisional opponents only.
For example, the West Division of the NOJHL has five teams — Soo Eagles, Soo Thunderbirds, Blind River Beavers, Espanola Express and Rayside Balfour Canadians — that are all within 180 miles or less of each other. But the issue facing the West Division is that one team — the Soo Eagles — is based across the Canada-United States border in Michigan.
Over in the East Division of the NOJHL, while all six teams are located in northeastern Ontario — French River Rapids, Powassan Voodoos, Timmins Rock, Cochrane Crunch, Kirkland Lake Gold Miners and Hearst Lumberjacks — some are more than 350 miles apart from one another. (Which could lead to overnight stays in hotels.)
The OHL, meanwhile, could also adopt inter-division play to reduce travel and overnight stays. But three of the OHL’s 20 teams are based in the United States. Which leads to the following big question.
That is, what to do with the Saginaw Spirit, Flint Firebirds and Erie Otters, short of having them play in their own three-team division or — more drastically — temporarily relocating all three teams to somewhere in Ontario if the border remains closed?
Yikes. Can you spell the word headache?
Meantime, the aforementioned CCHL, through commissioner Kevin Abrams, has already stated that it will begin league play on October 1 and that it will release its regular season schedule in mid August.
To be sure, the 12 team CCHL is an envious position as a league with the least amount of travel of any junior loop.
From one end of its Ottawa area footprint to another, the longest road trip is less than 200 miles. The average road trip is just under an hour in length and many CCHL teams have several trips to opposition arenas that are mere minutes away.