By: Bill Potrecz
The Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League could be back on the ice this year.
The GOJHL members have determined Wednesday, Dec. 2 as the opening night for the 2020-21 regular season.
The GOJHL will still have to work with the provincial government and the Ontario Hockey Association to be granted approval.
“Along with our goal of providing the best junior hockey experience in Ontario, the league is committed to ensure the safety of our players, staff, officials, volunteers and fans attending games,” GOJHL commissioner Mark Tuck said in a press release. “In the coming months the GOJHL will continue to work with government officials, public health units and arena facilities to ensure a safe return to play for everyone involved.”
The 2020/2021 season will include a 40-game regular season schedule and the usual 24-team playoff format. The regular season is scheduled to end March 28, 2021 and the 87th Sutherland Cup is set to be awarded no later than June 7, 2021.
Tuck felt it was important to set a date.
“The O (Ontario Hockey League) put their (proposal) out and the PJ (Provincial Junior League) is probably going to announce one, and I see the NOJHL (Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League) announced one. It’s to give the players and fans (a chance to) know what’s going to happen.”
Tuck said the proposal has included a provision for fans to be permitted at 30 per cent capacity per rink.
“There will be social distancing with masks. All the rules and regulations, we have to follow,” Tuck said.
Niagara Falls Canucks owner/coach Frank Pietrangelo has no problem with that aspect of the proposal.
“Our rink (Gale Centre) holds close to 3,000 and we don’t get crowds of 30 per cent (900) until playoff time,” he said. “I think we can all live with that. I think there is plenty of room. I don’t think that is an issue at all.
“It comes back down to the provincial and municipal guidelines. They are different everywhere. I went to Canadian Tire and there were 400 people walking around in there.”
Tuck feels it will take some time before it becomes apparent if the Dec. 2 date is realistic.
“That’s the $1 million question,” he said. “The big thing will be what happens in school. With the kids going back, if they follow the rules and wear a mask and wash their hands, maybe we’ll get through this successfully.”
Pietrangelo feels the December date is the proper course of action.
“It shows everybody we need a little bit more time to get this right,” he said. “This is a serious situation, obviously. A lot of people have gotten sick and lives have been lost so we’re trying to do this properly and the safest way possible.
“There are a lot of people to answer to — the province, the municipalities, Hockey Canada, the OHA, the OHF (Ontario Hockey Federation), the GOJHL — so it’s a long pecking order you have to satisfy in order to get back on the ice.”
Following protocols set out by Hockey Canada in their Return to Play-COVID 19 guidelines, GOJHL teams will have the option to hold extended on-ice training from September to November.
The Canucks plan to open camp, Tuesday, Sept. 8.
“It’s going to be tough to do the things we want to do. It’s not going to be hockey as we loved it to start out for sure. We’re going to have to juggle around the rules a little bit and do things properly,” he said.
Teams can practice, but no contact is permitted. As well, a limited number of players can be on the ice at one time.
“The problem is, and we’re in the same boat as everyone else at the junior B level, we only have had a handful of players that return from year to year,” Pietrangelo sad. “We’ve been watching game film but to see the kids compete and play on the ice, that’s a whole different story. It’s going to be one of the challenges. We’re trying to get that to expand a little bit so we can take a look at them.”
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