OHL shuts down season after government doesn’t approve return to play

The Ontario Hockey League has cancelled its 2020-21 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision on Tuesday means the OHL will be the only one of Canada’s three major junior hockey leagues not to hold a 2020-21 campaign.

The league says it reached an agreement on a return-to-play plan with the Ontario government earlier this month.

However, the OHL says the recently extended stay-at-home order along with increasing cases of COVID-19 across the province made it impossible to have a season.

“We have worked tirelessly with the province and the chief medical officer of health for the past year on different scenarios and different windows of opportunity but the reality is the conditions in Ontario have never been right to start and complete an uninterrupted, safe opportunity for players to showcase their skills,” said OHL commissioner David Branch.

“We owe it to our players and their families to be definitive. We were committed to return and play this season, but our hopes and desires have been dashed by the cruel realities of COVID-19.”

Shortened season in hub cities was planned

Last week, Ontario’s minister of sport says it would be “irresponsible” to approve a return to play.

Sports Minister Lisa MacLeod noted the province was days away from approving the OHL’s plan to return to play in late March when the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic began in earnest in Ontario.

The league says the plan was to hold a shortened season in hub cities, a model used by some divisions in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Western Hockey League.

The QMJHL started its season around its usual date in October with Quebec teams staying in the province and Maritime teams strictly playing in their own division. However, the campaign was interrupted several times by COVID-19 outbreaks. Teams played a maximum of 40 regular-season games, down from the usual 64. The league plans to crown a champion.

The WHL started earlier this year with teams only playing within their divisions, and some playing in hubs. The league cancelled its playoffs on Monday night.

The Canadian Hockey League cancelled the Memorial Cup — Canada’s major junior championship, on April 13 — a week after Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a stay-at-home order to try and slow the spread of the virus. It had been scheduled to be held in either Oshawa, Ont., or Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

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