What’s next for the OHL?

Randy Russon
December 27, 2020
OHL commissioner David Branch

Regular season action in junior hockey leagues that span northeastern and northwestern Ontario got underway in November with new playing rules that ban intentional contact — and with very few spectators allowed in the arenas.

But while the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League began regular season play on November 13 and the Superior International Jr. Hockey League started two weeks later, the higher level, higher stakes Ontario Hockey League has remained idle.

Putting it mildly, the OHL continues to face major roadblocks as it hopes to salvage the 2021 portion of the 2020-2021 season.

Unlike the lower level, pay to play junior hockey leagues, the OHL is a multi-million dollar enterprise where teams rely on thousands of fans per game to cover the major operating expenses that are part of the way of doing business in the 20 member league.

Not only that, the OHL represents a larger geographical expanse with three American teams in two separate states and Ontario based clubs in regions spanning southwestern Ontario, the Greater Toronto Area, eastern Ontario, and northeastern Ontario.

And with all of that are issues due to border closure and provincial shut down relative to COVID-19.

The OHL has twice now postponed the start of the 2020-2021 season with the latest stall the result of the recent Ontario government shutdown which extends to January 23 in most of the province except for northern Ontario, which is poised to re-open again on January 9.

Training camps for the various OHL teams had been scheduled to begin in mid January and the regular season was targeted to start in early February but the Ontario government shutdown has made that timeline impossible.

Meanwhile, OHL commissioner David Branch said he plans to continue to consult and work closely with government and health authorities to determine potential start dates to the still-stalled season.

As powerful and influential a person as there is in major junior hockey, Branch continues to have his work cut out for him as he explores and exhausts any and all avenues relative to a safe return to play for the OHL and its 20 member teams.

A very astute man, Branch has plans and back-up plans. He looks ahead while aware of the present. And he surely knows that any return to play for the OHL this season will likely include modifications that the league may have no choice but to embrace.

Regional and cohort play may well be essential for the OHL to return. So may a limit on body contact and fan attendance.

Fan attendance in the gate-driven OHL would be particularly difficult to overcome, even though televising of games looms as a source of income for the league and its teams.

Meantime, in this day of government assistance to businesses affected by COVID-19, the OHL and its teams could well be in line for millions of dollars in subsidies. After all, the OHL is a business.

And it is a business that has been shut down for the better part of nine months now.

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