WHL aims for Dec. 4 start to season

The Victoria Royals won’t compete until near Christmas. After that, they will play a lot of games in what would be a hectic and condensed time frame. At least, that’s the latest plan.

An ambitious Western Hockey League believes it can fit in a whirlwind regular 68-game season, followed by four full playoff rounds, despite a revised Dec. 4 start date due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“It will be a great challenge and about how you deal with game density and travel and the skill of recovery,” said Royals head coach and general manager Dan Price.

Even the Dec. 4 target, announced Thursday, is dependent on receiving approvals from governments and health authorities in four provinces and two states, and having the Canada-U.S. border open by December.

“Regardless of our start date, the WHL is committed to playing a full regular season and playoffs in 2020-21,” WHL commissioner Ron Robison said in a statement.

The WHL had previously set a delayed start date of Oct. 2 due to the pandemic. Regular-season play normally begins in September.

“In our discussions with the government and health authorities, it has become apparent that additional time is required to ensure we can return to play in a safe and responsible manner,” Robison said.

“Our WHL health-and-safety protocols have been well received by the health authorities, but we have several key issues that we will need to reach a resolution on in the coming months.”

Complicating matters is that the WHL has previously said it needs socially distanced fans in attendance up to 50 per cent of arena capacities for the season to be financially viable for its 22 clubs.

“Everyone is waiting for more information,” Price said.

“It is all contingent on the health authorities.”

The Ontario Hockey League, part of the Canadian Hockey League with the WHL and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, announced Wednesday it is planning for a reduced 64-game regular season beginning Dec. 1 and concluding April 29 with full playoff rounds to follow. The regular season usually ends in March.

The 2021 CHL-championship Memorial Cup tournament is to be hosted by the OHL from June 17 to 27 at either Oshawa or Sault Ste. Marie. The 2020 Memorial Cup, scheduled for May in Kelowna, was cancelled. The WHL, OHL and QMJHL scrubbed the final weeks of their 2020 regular seasons in March, followed by all playoff rounds, due to the pandemic.

CHL coaches and general managers have a great deal of time to fill from now until the start of training camps, whenever that is.

B.C. regulations currently allow for training in small groups.

“We are speaking with each of our returning players in their home communities and monitoring their training,” Price said.

“We are waiting on information from the league on when player travel [to where clubs are located] will be allowed.”

That is especially complicated for the five WHL U.S. Division teams due to the closed border.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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