When Will Canadian Tier II, The USHL, And NAHL Begin Play? Here are your clues…

I am getting a lot of phone calls and emails asking about when the Canadian Junior Leagues, USHL and NAHL will begin their seasons.

The clues are pretty easy to find if you look for them. Those clues come from the higher level leagues like the NHL, NCAA and Major Junior hockey.

The WHL has said publicly now that they can not and will not return to play unless they can operate at 50% seating capacity for games. My best guess there is they start in December at 50% even though they hope to start in October. Why? Because the Canadian government will want to wait until a “second wave” of Coronavirus has passed or is not seen as a threat.

The same goes for the BCHL. They simply can’t operate at 25% capacity. They will be smart and wait until they can have 50% as well.

The KIJHL just finished their summer meetings. Rumor is that it will be a 42 game season in the KIJHL starting in October. No crossover games outside of conferences. Look for similar season designs in the BCHL.

The AJHL, SJHL, MJHL are all likely to start on time in September or close to it. Very low infection rates there and they are opening up quickly.

Ontario and Quebec, the home of the SIHJL, NOJHL, OJHL, CCHL, and the QJHLAAA are a different matter. Ontario and Quebec are the hotspots for Coronavirus, and given the recent announcement by Premier Doug Ford concerning school reopening’s, it doesn’t look like Ontario or Quebec will be open for hockey until November or later.

The Maritimes league should start on time without issue due to a low number of infections.

All of this said in Canada, NO AMERICAN PLAYERS are expected in Canada Junior A or B this year. This has not changed and will not change until the borders are reopened with testing, tracking and quarantine measures are put in place.

The USHL has been silent until recently. Nothing has been said publicly about potential dates for a return to play. The USHL is at the mercy of each state where teams are located. Michigan and Illinois are not looking good for hockey any time soon that would allow fans into buildings.

Until each state allows fans in the buildings, I wouldn’t expect the USHL to play before November or December when a predicted “second wave” of the virus has either passed or not shown up.

The NAHL recently came out with a return to play statement. Well written as usual, there are several clues to what the NAHL is thinking;

Regarding returning to the ice for the 2020-21 season, I am excited to state that our goal for the season is to play a full 60-game regular season schedule, beginning with the Greatest Show on Ice in September at the NAHL Showcase in Blaine, Minnesota, continuing with the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament in February, and concluding with Robertson Cup National Championship Tournament May.

With that in mind, we understand that many factors are out of our control and that we may need to consider an alternative schedule for upcoming season.  In all of our models the alternative schedule would be simply defined as a delayed start to the current schedule in order to not affect player development and exposure.

The second paragraph is the most important one. The NAHL recognized they have to deal with a lot of different states as well. Its pretty clear they see the season will likely be delayed. They have contingency plans of course, but they depend on ticket revenue and teams cant survive without it.

Lets use some common sense. Does anyone think for one second that in less than 90 days the State of Minnesota will be allowing thousands of people into the Blaine Schwann’s arena? Having been to this event many times, it is elbow to elbow, shoulder to shoulder, and there is no way social distancing measure can be maintained.

As of June 10th, Minnesota was only allowing movie theaters, indoor concert venues, bowling alleys and fitness centers to open up at 25% capacity. Even 50% capacity in Blaine wouldn’t allow for the event to take place.

Current rules in Blaine at the Super Center where the showcase is held are:

  • No parents or spectators allowed in the building, just players and coaches.
  • Masks required for all staff in the building.
  • Masks required for participants on their way into and out of the building. On the ice, they have the option of taking the mask off.
  • Temperature checks for everyone coming into the building. Anyone with a temperature above 101.4 F is not admitted.
  • Pods of no more than 10 people (nine skaters and one coach) are allowed on each half-sheet of ice.
  • Participants may only enter the building 10 minutes prior to their ice time, and must leave the building within five minutes of their ice time ending.

Considering that when a team leaves the locker room, in Blaine right now the arena staff sprays down every surface with a disinfectant, then allows 50 minutes for everything to dry before another team enters. Even a place like Blaine doesn’t have enough dressing rooms to accommodate that kind of drying and cleaning time.

Currently the Super Rink is just allowing practices, and no games. Groups of ten on the ice only, including coaches.

Until these rules are dramatically changed, there wont be any chance for a September showcase in Blaine.

Now I know I just pissed in everyone’s cheerios this morning. Sorry, but if you’re not getting real and accurate information its because you aren’t listening or reading enough, or you are not seeing what is in front of our eyes.

This isn’t a knock on any league for being careful. Its the responsible thing to do considering each leagues business model.

So, when considering what league you want to play for, consider when they will begin play as well. Create a backup plan. If you don’t have a backup plan you will have no one to blame but yourself when you are sitting at home while others are already on the ice.

One of the most important questions a player and parent must ask themselves this season is if they are prepared to wait until October, November, December or even January to begin their season?

If you are, great, carry on. If not, its time to create a plan. I have been creating backup plans for players for 25 years.

Joseph Kolodziej – Adviser