The only non-normal thing the Western Hockey League plans for next season is no inter-locking play between the Western and Eastern conferences. Other than that, it’s full on for 2021-22 with 68 games per team from Oct. 1 to April 3 with fans in attendance to full capacity.
That’s a bold and clear plan for a league that has had to hedge its bets throughout the pandemic after the 2019-20 season was cancelled just prior to the playoffs and the 2021 season was reduced to 22 games without playoffs.
“The league hasn’t been saying something like this before. It shows that they have been following the situation closely and are very confident with what they are hearing from health authorities,” said Victoria Royals GM and head coach Dan Price.
“It’s a solid step forward.”
The WHL released a statement: “With the anticipated lifting of health restrictions in all jurisdictions, the 2021-22 season will call for a 68-game schedule with full capacity in a fan-friendly and safe environment throughout all WHL markets.”
Teams can begin today unveiling their opening-night home dates. The WHL pre-season schedule will be announced June 21 and the Western Conference regular-season schedule on June 23.
The playoffs will begin April 8 with the re-introduction of the conference format, which was in use up to 2014, after which a divisional format was introduced in 2015. The first-place teams in the two divisions in each conference will receive the top-two post-season seeds based on regular-season points. The next six teams in each conference with the most points will be seeded third through eighth. The Western Conference consists of the 10 teams in the B.C. and U.S. divisions.
Price noted every regular-season game will be within the conference so will be a four-pointer in terms of swing.
“And the new format will make for interesting first-round playoff match-ups that we haven’t seen in a while,” said Price.
The dates for training camps will be announced soon.
“It’s great and encouraging just to be looking forward again to things like training camps and pre-season games,” said Price.