It has been just over a year since there was game action in the Ontario Hockey League.
As COVID-19 put a halt to the 2019-2020 season a year ago this month, the OHL is poised to finally return to the ice for a shortened version of a 2020-2021 campaign.
A normal OHL regular season is 68 games for each of its 20 teams. But there is very little that is normal in this age of hockey as it relates to COVID-19.
To be sure, the OHL has never been closer to ushering in the 2020-2021 season, with the optimism stemming from statements made by Ontario’s minister of sport Lisa MacLeod, who noted that she is “feeling great” about the league’s chances of returning to play soon in what would be an abbreviated schedule of 20-25 regular season games per team.
And OHL commissioner David Branch told Postmedia that the league is “encouraged with the progress being made in our discussions with government and public health … we look forward to finalizing an arrangement that will get our players back on the ice safely, and as quickly as possible.”
Now, it’s up to Branch, the Ontario government and public health and medical officials to finalize a return to play that would likely begin with OHL training camps and then a move to hub cities to begin play.
All of which can be tricky, challenging, risky and costly.
The most logical and likely sketch for an abbreviated OHL season would be played out within a bubble system with host cities — a scene which would require millions of dollars in government funding for testing and housing teams and approved by Ontario medical officer of health Dr. David Williams.
As for the hub city format, the National Hockey League went that route for its 2020 playoffs that included 24 teams. Toronto was the hub city for the 12 Eastern Conference teams and Edmonton provided the same for the 12 Western Conference clubs.
The OHL and its 20 teams are divided between Eastern and Western Conferences. Seventeen of the OHL’s 20 teams are based throughout various regions of Ontario.
Hamilton, Niagara, Barrie, Mississauga, Oshawa, Peterborough, Ottawa, Kingston, North Bay and Sudbury all house Eastern Conference teams.
Windsor, Sarnia, London, Kitchener, Guelph, Owen Sound, Sault Ste. Marie, Saginaw, Flint and Erie are all home to Western Conference teams. (Saginaw, Flint and Erie are American-based teams.)
Being considered for a hub city would include a number of requirements such as food and accommodations for teams, safety and public health and government approval, all relative to COVID-19.
Should the OHL proceed with a hub city format, Soo Greyhounds president Tim Lukenda relayed his thoughts to Postmedia relative to Sault Ste. Marie possibly being one.
“If we were to be asked, I’d love to try to make it happen while recognizing that we need proper local approvals,” said Lukenda.