Let us hope and pray that junior hockey will be played at some point during the 2020-2021 season. However, for example, what happens if the junior hockey season gets the go ahead to begin play but the Canada-United States border remains indefinitely closed?
To be sure, there are four Ontario based junior leagues that have American entries among their members.
Three of the leagues are classified as Junior A and one as Major Junior.
First up, the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League has 11 teams. Ten of the teams are located in northeastern Ontario and one — the Soo Eagles — is based in northern Michigan.
Then there is the Superior International Jr. Hockey League, which is made up of seven teams. Five of the SIJHL members are in northwestern Ontario while two teams have U.S. locations — the Wisconsin Lumberjacks and the Thief River Falls Norskies (who are based in Minnesota.)
Over to the Ontario Jr. Hockey League, it is made up of 22 teams. Twenty one of the teams are from southern and eastern Ontario with one lone American entry, the Buffalo Jr. Sabres, who are based in the state of New York.
Meanwhile, at the major junior level, the Ontario Hockey League boasts a 20 team membership. Seventeen of the teams are based in Ontario while three others are located across the international border — Saginaw Spirit, Flint Firebirds and Erie Otters. Saginaw and Flint are both located in Michigan while Erie is in Pennsylvania.
So, back to the original scenario — what happens if junior hockey opens for business but the border remains indefinitely closed?
Well, in the case of the NOJHL, SIJHL and the OJHL, it would be business as usual (or, unusual, perhaps) for all of the Ontario based teams of the respective leagues.
As for the four American teams from the three different leagues — how about an interlocking schedule to at least start the 2020-2021 season?
While it would lead to more travel and the expenses that go with it, the Soo Eagles of the NOJHL, Wisconsin Lumberjacks and Thief River Falls Norskies of the SIJHL, and Buffalo Jr. Sabres of the OJHL could play a series of interlocking games — with permission from Hockey Canada and USA Hockey of course — to at least provide some sort of game activity for the four teams should the border remain closed once hockey season begins.
I realize this isn’t ideal. Far from it. But nothing is really ideal or normal as hockey — in this case junior hockey — adjusts to whatever the new normal is going to be.
As for the OHL, should the border remain closed when play is cleared to resume, the three American teams — Saginaw, Flint and Erie — could either just play one another, or they could go the interlocking route with their Western Hockey League brethren.
The WHL has 22 teams. Seventeen are based across multiple Western Canada provinces while five other teams have locations in the United States — four in Washington and one in Oregon.
Without question, this sounds a lot easier than it would actually be.
The commissioners of the three Junior A leagues — NOJHL, SIJHL and OJHL — would have to be very creative and accommodating of each other. As would those in charge of the OHL and the WHL.
As well, should the hockey season begin while the Canada-United States border remains in shutdown, there is the issue of Canadian and American players.
That is, there are many American kids who are signed to play on Ontario teams in the NOJHL, SIJHL and OJHL. And, there are well over 100 Canadian kids playing on the three American teams of the OHL and the five American teams of the WHL.
Once the American players cross the border to play in Canada and vice versa — if they are even allowed to do so — they would probably have to remain in the respective countries until the border opens. And there are issues relative to quarantine, etc.
There are many scenarios being played out with regards to junior hockey and the aforementioned leagues and teams in question. And no one really knows what the new normal will be — and when the new normal will come into being.
Meantime, as we have said before — it is business as unusual in the junior hockey world.