By Darryl G. Smart
The Ontario Junior Hockey League got a big boost in its returning to action this season thanks to the Ontario Hockey Federation. Despite that, there is still a long way to go before the league, and other junior hockey leagues get to hit the ice for official 5-on-5 game action.
On Saturday, the OJHL announced that the OHF approval has been received for 5-on-5 modified playing rules for game play. The announcement comes off the heels of the OJHL announcing its plan to return to play in early January the day before.
“Our league staff and our teams have been incredibly focused, supportive, disciplined and patient throughout this approval process with our member partners – one marked by ever-changing and difficult conditions during a pandemic,” OJHL commissioner Marty Savoy said. “We have worked co-operatively and tirelessly with our partners at the Ontario Hockey Federation and the Ontario Hockey Association and look forward to our players resuming game play under these approved regulations.”
The approved 5-on-5 game play regulations include the elimination of post-whistle scrums or altercations, and no body contact.
All OJHL team officials, volunteers and support staff agree they will comply with all laws of Ontario, the municipality and regional public health authority where the game is being played.
Players will wear an approved bubble face mask and facial covering, and masks are mandated to be worn at all times in dressing rooms and other common areas in and around the buildings.
Other protocols include: the number of players allowed to dress as well as bench seating requirements will depend on the facility structure and public health unit, enhanced cleaning and disinfectant process in frequent, high touch areas, and team benches must be disinfected at the end of each period.
Even though it is a big victory for the OJHL and its teams, the league still needs to wait on the province for approval.
“This is great,” Brantford 99ers owner Darren DeDobbelaer said. “But we’re still at the mercy of the government. This is certainly a step in the right direction.”
The 99ers, who have no other OJHL teams within their health unit, currently skates twice a week, which includes a scrimmage with the city’s Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League team Brantford Bandits.
AROUND THE COUNTRY
Many of these same protocols are already being done across the Canadian Junior Hockey League, which is the umbrella for junior A hockey, that includes the OJHL.
• The British Columbia Hockey League has implemented the use of the approved bubble masks. That league is set to begin, pending approval from the Provincial Health Office, on December 1. Teams are already playing exhibition games.
Despite the projected start, the league announced today that due to the restrictions put in place Sunday by the PHO regarding sporting events in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions, the BCHL has cancelled all preseason games involving the Chilliwack Chiefs, Coquitlam Express, Langley Rivermen and Surrey Eagles for the next two weeks.
The Powell River Kings, who are included in the Vancouver Coastal region, have had to postpone their preseason game against the Cowichan Valley Capitals. Powell River was originally exempt from the restrictions and the team and league are hoping for clarification on the ruling.
The PHO announced stricter restrictions in the two health regions Sunday due to a rise in cases of COVID-19. These restrictions include a two-week ban on sporting events. The league has cancelled seven games between Nov. 13 and 21.
• Meanwhile the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League kicked off Friday night. Despite that, six games were cancelled Saturday because of heavy snow around the province.
The Alberta Junior Hockey League is slated to begin its regular season Friday.
• The Manitoba Junior Hockey League began its season in October, albeit, with a reduction of its schedule, while implementing self-imposed breaks knowing the significant challenges that would be faced throughout the season.
The implementation of breaks have proven essential to provide flexibility to the schedule and provide a necessary buffer for teams to recover from COVID-19 implications, postponements and/or weather related disruption.
This weekend there were a handful of games postponed for the first time this season because of precautionary health concerns.
• The Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League began exhibition action Friday. They are currently in stage 2 of its Return to Play protocols, which includes exhibition games which includes very limited number of spectators, or in some cases, no fans being allowed into buildings to view games. Also, as per current provincial regulations, no intentional body contact will be allowed and any occurrences will be strictly enforced and penalized.
• The Superior International Junior Hockey League kicks off its exhibition schedule Friday, and will tentatively conclude December 14. That league has two American-based teams in Wisconsin that are unable to cross the border.
• In the Central Canada Hockey League, teams outside of Ottawa – Carleton Place, Pembroke, Renfrew, Kemptville, Smiths Falls, Brockville, Cornwall, Rockland and Hawkesbury have been able to play exhibition games without contact. In some of those spots, a maximum of 50 spectators have been allowed to watch the games.
The Ottawa Junior Senators, Nepean Raiders and Navan Grads are limited to having a maximum of 10 players on the ice.
• The Maritime Junior Hockey League kicked off its season on November 1, with strict restrictions for fans.