ONTARIO – The OHL is the only major junior league under the Canadian Hockey League umbrella not to begin a 2020-21 season.
Ontario’s Sports Minister Lisa MacLeod said it would be “irresponsible” to approve return to play for the Ontario Hockey League right now.
She spoke last Thursday explaining that the province was days away from approving the OHL’s plan to return to play in March, but the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic began in Ontario.
She explained that although she had been hopeful there would be an OHL season in 2021, there was no way to justify the league returning due to how quickly variants spread.
Ontario reported a record-high 4,736 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 29 more deaths linked to the virus.
The ministry of health said there are 1,932 people hospitalized in Ontario with the novel coronavirus, with 659 patients in intensive care and 419 on a ventilator.
Even so, the Western Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League have both played modified schedules this year.
The OHL said in a statement on Thursday that a return-to-play was given conditional approval, but “the recent increase in COVID-19 cases across the province, paired with the latest reinstatement of a stay-at-home order, have put increased pressure on these plans.”
The league said it would provide a further update in the coming days.
The CHL cancelled the Memorial Cup, Canada’s major junior championship, on Tuesday, with plans to be held in either Oshawa, Ont., or Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
On April 7, Premier Doug Ford announced a stay-at-home order to try and slow the spread of the virus.
It was explained that any resumption of play would have to be approved by Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health.
On March 17, it was revealed that the Ontario Hockey League will receive $2.35 million from the Ontario government as part of $15.3 million in funding to support sport and recreation organizations and high-performance athletes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
MacLeod said the OHL funding will be for the league’s post-secondary education scholarships for athletes with its 17 Ontario-based clubs. Each OHL franchise will receive approximately $138,000 for help with player scholarship commitments.