Canada

QMJHL weighing two scenarios at it plans for a return to play in January

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MONTREAL – The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League has a plan A and a plan B to resume its season in mid-January, and its commissioner said Tuesday that cancelling its schedule isn’t an option.

On Monday, the league announced it was suspending activities from Dec. 1 to Jan. 3, when players are expected to report to their respective clubs. The plan is to start playing games again between Jan. 17 and Jan. 20.

There are two possibilities for how the resumption of games could look.

Plan A, the one seemingly favoured by QMJHL commissioner Gilles Courteau, would be that the COVID-19 pandemic will have subsided enough to allow public health officials in the four provinces the league has teams to permit the resumption of the schedule as planned with interprovincial travel.

But the QMJHL also has a Plan B: a bubble format with a handful of teams in select cities.

The league would create protected environments, like it did in Quebec City for about 10 days earlier in November, where several teams played games.

The league wants six different cities — four in Quebec and two in Atlantic Canada — to host three teams each to play two games over three days between Jan. 22 and Jan. 24.

After that, three cities would welcome four Quebec teams each to play six games in nine days between Jan. 30 and Feb. 7.

There would also be a gathering of the six Atlantic Canada-based teams to play five games in eight days between Jan. 30 and Feb 6.

“I think that what happened in Quebec City over the last two weeks has been a real boost for our teams,” Courteau said Tuesday. “It’s been a very positive event and gave us faith when we will sit down in front of the four provinces’ public health departments, that we’ve got a good plan for them.”

If restrictions are still place, the league is ready to pivot to a bubble format.

“We’ll see as well what will be the evolution of the pandemic,” Courteau said.

The QMJHL was the only one of three Canadian major junior leagues to open their season around the normal start date.

The Western Hockey League has said it plans to start the season in January, while the Ontario Hockey League has targeted February.

For the time being, the QMJHL has no plans to cancel the rest of the season.

“We never talked about cancelling the season,” Courteau said. “When we made the decision back in late July, start of August about resuming training and the start of training camp, we knew … we would go through roadblocks throughout the season.”

The 18-team league has been forced to postpone games regularly in Quebec and Atlantic Canada since starting the season in early October because of COVID-19 restrictions and positive tests.

The league says the objective is for teams to play about 30 games each in the bubble format. But it wouldn’t mean all teams will play an equal number of games by the end of the season. Thus far, the Sherbrooke Phoenix have played a league-low five games, while three clubs lead the way with 16 games played apiece.

The league’s hockey committee is meeting to assess which scenario will be adopted and how the playoffs will look.

The league has distributed specifics to each club and it will be up to them to decide whether they will put themselves forward to host one of the bubbles.

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QMJHL will not be exempted from strict COVID-19 requirements in Atlantic Canada.

The league has three teams in New Brunswick, two in Nova Scotia and one in Prince Edward Island. The league has asked players to report as of Jan. 3 so they can fulfil a 14-day quarantine before activities resume Jan. 17.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2020.

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