Oil Kings brace for COVID changes as WHL set to return in January
EDMONTON -- The Edmonton Oil Kings are readying to return to the ice for the first time in nine months, though questions remain about how the team and Western Hockey League will handle the challenge of the coronavirus.
The WHL says it will begin a new season on Jan. 8 with the 50-game season running until May 2.
"We’re working out scheduling.There’s so many uncertainties right now," said Oil Kings general manager Kirt Hill.
No decision has been made on whether fans will be allowed to attend games this season. The league says it also hasn't firmed up plans for playoffs, including the Memorial Cup.
All games this season will be played within the league’s four divisions. The Swift Current Broncos will move back into the seven-team East Division, which will also consist of the Regina Pats, Moose Jaw Warriors, Saskatoon Blades, Prince Albert Raiders, Brandon Wheat Kings and Winnipeg Ice.
The Central Division will feature the five Alberta based teams, the B.C. Division will have the five teams in that province and the U.S Division will be made up of the five teams from Washington and Oregon.
"I don’t believe we’re at risk of losing any franchises but it will be a difficult situation for our teams to work their way through," said WHL commissioner Ron Robison.
The WHL plans to have players report to their respective teams following the Christmas break. The league has yet to release the new schedule.
The WHL has also appointed a Chief Medical Officer in Dr. Dhiren Naidu, who recently served as the NHL Medical Director for the Edmonton hub.
"Dr. Naidu will be assisting the WHL with the implementation of its comprehensive health and safety protocols, in consultation with provincial and state health authorities," the WHL said.
QMJHL SUSPENDS SEASON
The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League on Wednesday suspended play in both of its Quebec-based divisions until at least Oct. 28 because of COVID-19.
The league will continue play with five of six teams in the Maritimes Division. The Moncton Wildcats will not play for now because of New Brunswick government restrictions in the area.
The league's Assembly of Members made the decision on Wednesday. The QMJHL plans to reassess the situation in two weeks.
The league says continuing play in Quebec became almost impossible with six of 12 teams located in red zones, where organized sport is prohibited.
The league, which opened its season on Oct. 2, had outbreaks on two teams last week.
The third Canadian Hockey League competition, the Ontario Hockey League is eyeing a December return to play, though the province has warned the sport may have to be modified, including the removal of physical contact.
With files from the Canadian Press