OHL 2020-21 season to open February 4

The Canadian juniors league will have a shortened season.

The general managers of the Ontario Hockey League met earlier today and set forth the plan to begin the 2020-21 season. The 2019-20 OHL season was cut short of its 68-game schedule, cancelled on March 22 due to the coronavirus pandemic, with teams completing between 61 and 64 games. The playoffs, as well as the Memorial Cup, were also cancelled.

Of the three leagues that comprise the Canadian Hockey League, so far only the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League has returned to play thus far, though the league has faced pauses and complications operating while the pandemic is still on-going.

Hoping to avoid such complications, the OHL will not begin its season until February 4, 2021. International players will report to their Canadian teams by January 8 and will be expected to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Training camps will begin on January 23, before a short exhibition of one or two games January 29-31.

Still of concern are the teams located in the United States, two in Michigan and one in Pennsylvania, who will be on the other side of a closed border. All three teams are in the league’s Western Conference. The general managers did not have a plan for how these teams could compete.

Aside from how the US teams will factor in, the rest of the plan is laid out fairly well. The season will be cut down to 40 games and playoffs will be halved as well; just eight teams (four from each conference) will make the postseason, as opposed to the usual 16. A schedule has not yet been made, but it’s assumed that teams will be set up to minimize travel, perhaps only playing against four or five other teams total.

The season will close on May 16. The Memorial Cup — a tournament between all three CHL leagues’ champions — has been pushed back to June 17-20.

As for whether or not they’ll be able to host fans, that’s also still up in the air, as the climate regarding the pandemic continues to shift. Closer to the start date, I imagine it will come down to local regulations about gatherings. Currently, Ontario is not allowing gatherings of more than 10 people indoors, with exceptions for funerals, wedding ceremonies and religious ceremonies, which are limited to 30 percent of a venue’s occupancy.

Meanwhile, the NHL is still planning for a January 1 start date, though it’s been rumored that February is a possibility. It will be interesting to see how this affects the agreement between the NHL and CHL about juniors-eligible players if the NHL starts a full month ahead of the OHL.