If the Ontario Hockey League has a season in 2020-21, the hockey itself will look very different.
The OHL likely can’t resume without the removal of close physical contact between players, including bodychecking. That’s what Lisa MacLeod, Ontario’s minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries, said when she spoke with reporters Wednesday. The OHL’s return-to-play plan is currently targeting an early December start date, MacLeod said. MacLeod added that any sports organization in Ontario that wants to play will have to take steps to slow the spread of COVID-19, including removing close physical contact.
“It would be safe to say that body contact, unless it’s incremental, will not be permitted as a result of COVID-19,” MacLeod said, according to SportsNet. “That would pose a challenge in terms of how they amend their play.”
MacLeod said her organization has been in “constant contact” with Premier Doug Ford, whose government has put a four-week pause on any sports reopening plans. It was not immediately suggested by MacLeod how the league would attempt to enforce limiting physical contact between players.
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The OHL’s return-to-play plan won’t only be impacted by rules regarding physical contact. It’ll have to determine how to handle the three OHL teams based in the United States — the Flint Firebirds, Saginaw Spirit and Erie Otters — while travel restrictions exist between Canada and the U.S. In addition, the OHL features two teams which are in “hot zone” areas of Canada, the Ottawa 67’s and the Mississauga Steelheads. MacLeod clarified that the OHL is not interested in running with a self-contained bubble like the NHL, NBA and WNBA did to complete their 2019-20 seasons.
MacLeod’s news conference took place while in Quebec, the Quebec Junior Major Hockey League (QJMHL) is facing a COVID-19 outbreak with the Armada BLB squad. That team’s players and staff have been placed in isolation for 14 days, and their operations are suspended indefinitely.
Another hockey operation in Canada, the Greater Toronto Hockey League, announced recently that it wouldn’t be returning to play until January.
Also included in MacLeod’s Wednesday news conference was the scheduling of an Oct. 30 announcement about plans to host the FIFA World Cup and the Commonwealth Games.
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