Recently a number of people have reached out to me asking me to write something on how junior hockey will look in the United states this season. Some people have said I have unfairly made the Canadian situation look bleak.
First let me say I think Canada will play. They will have staggered start dates and some updated rules, but they will play.
The United States? That is a different story.
Not everyone in the United States will play, and not everyone who plays will have a full or uninterrupted season.
I believe the United States is in a much more difficult position than Canada is. Simply because the population base is ten times greater, and the concentrations of COVID infections are so widespread.
Each State has its own rules for containment and management of COVID-19. This alone will mean different management protocols for hockey moving forward.
New York, Connecticut and New Jersey have their own State by State quarantine rules. People going to NY, NJ or CT from nineteen other States must now quarantine on arrival. Other States have also taken this position. Until those rules change, teams located there or teams traveling to these states will need to abide by quarantine rules.
Texas, Florida, California and others are now reversing some of their business opening decisions.
Chicago now is requiring people to quarantine if they are coming from a highly infected region. Minnesota is still a mess, and Massachusetts is forcing multiple major events to cancel or relocate.
This is not to bash those States, but it is to point out that four months into virus management, nothing is being managed to any one certain standard.
With six weeks to go, anyone thinking that these changing situations will be resolved for everyone to resume play in September is clearly needing psychiatric help. The situation isn’t changing, and it wont change until the virus runs its course, or a common plan is implemented.
Whether you believe the virus is being manipulated for political reasons or not, it will effect hockey at every level. My personal belief is that sometime around November 3rd, things will magically begin to look a little better in some States.
What you can definitely expect is that no European players will be playing in the United States until the mutual travel ban between the USA and EU is completely lifted.
You can also expect Scandinavian players to be stuck in their home countries.
You can expect Russian players to not be issued visa’s, and the same goes for Scotland, England and others.
You can expect that the student visa loophole that could have been used before is now closed to any school not having classes in person.
You can expect any team relying on ticket sales in any State that mandates over restrictive social distancing compliance at games, will not play.
You can expect players who do play, some will get infected and some seasons will immediately be halted.
You can expect that some insurance issues may come up before or during the season that will effect play. No insurance company will want the COVID-19 liability.
You can expect lawsuits. People will file actions to enforce their rights and enforce any claims they may have.
Hockey in the United States is in a much more precarious position than it is in Canada or Europe. That is simply just a fact.
Want to know where it will be safe to play? Its simple. In empty arenas and on teams that have very strict protocols for contact with the public.
Wait until the last minute to sign anywhere that is currently experiencing high infection numbers. Look for low infection numbers that are current and consistent for at least two weeks.
This year you can not base your team search on who you want to play for. The only way to ensure a season with little to no interruptions is to pick a team based on the location that is safe.
The level of play you are at this season is really inconsequential unless you are an NHL prospect. Playing safely and having a full season are the goals.
Thankfully many teams are preparing for all of these issues. Some are not, and refuse to acknowledge that a possible stoppage of play could happen.
For the last four months the United States has had the time to get things under control. Anyone thinking that its going to happen in the next six weeks is ignoring the facts.
If the new NHL-NHLPA collective bargaining agreement calls for the 2020-2021 season to begin in December, why is anyone thinking it is going to be alright to have fans in buildings before then at the junior hockey level?
If NCAA programs are canceling seasons until January 2021, why does anyone think its going to be alright to have fans in the buildings before then at the junior hockey level?
If NCAA programs are cutting games to eliminate unnecessary travel, why do junior teams think some crazy travel schedules are going to be allowed or possible?
It is time for leagues to start talking openly and honestly to the public. I am aware of multiple high level teams who have already spoken to arena’s outside of their home state to attempt to secure alternative venue’s to begin the 2020-2021 season. Isn’t that information players and parents should have?
Four months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and leagues continue to not be forthcoming to their customers and the players who give them a product to sell to the public.
One reader contacted me last week asking some great questions. Concerning COVID, league and team testing, quarantine rules, potential positive tests for players in season and all the consequences that could be involved.
It is embarrassing to say that most of the questions asked simply didn’t have answers because leagues have been silent. Silent hope in the face of adversity while lacking a clear plan is simply a recipe for disaster.
It’s now mid July. Which league is going to step up and break the silence first? My best guess is none of them will. They will wait until States one by one pick apart the junior hockey season until players have little choice but to accept substandard programming with teams that simply got lucky to be in rural area’s with low numbers of infections.
Now that I have thoroughly pissed of both sides of the North American border fire those emails away.
Joseph Kolodziej – Adviser