OHL, GOJHL place return to ice on hold

The WFCU Centre in Windsor is seen from ice level on July 25, 2019. Photo by Mark Brown/Blackburn News.

Junior hockey in southern Ontario has once again been put on ice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League (GOJHL) announced Wednesday that their return-to-ice plans for the 2020-2021 season have been paused, following Premier Doug Ford’s announcement to place the entire province on lockdown status.

The OHL includes the Windsor Spitfires and the London Knights. The GOJHL’s Western Conference includes the Chatham Maroons, Komoka Kings, LaSalle Vipers, Leamington Flyers, London Nationals, St. Marys Lincolns, Sarnia Legionnaires, and the Strathroy Rockets.

OHL Commissioner David Branch said he is confident there will be a season, but the safety and health of all involved with the league comes before everything else.

“We know that this is difficult news for many of our players, fans, billets, parents, staff and teams,” said Branch. “However, the restrictions both provincially in Ontario as well as nationally with regards to cross-border travel have informed our decision.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by GOJHL Commissioner Mark Tuck.

“Our priority is to exhaust all options in order to have some form of a season,” said Tuck. “We are doing everything we can go get our players, teams, and league through development and gameplay to a safe return to the ice.”

In the OHL, teams were expected to begin reporting for training camp after the New Year’s holiday, with a season start date of February 4, 2021.

The GOJHL had unveiled in November a Return to Play plan, which included modified rules for five-on-five play designed to protect players.

The Ontario government ordered a lockdown to begin provincewide at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, which means most non-essential businesses will be closed to in-person traffic through at least January 9 in northern Ontario, and January 23 in southern Ontario.