By Dale Woodard on December 17, 2020.
The waiting game – not the hockey game – continues for the Lethbridge Hurricanes and it won’t end on Jan. 8 as hoped.
For the third time since the COVID-19 pandemic iced the last month of the 2019-20 WHL season as well as the playoffs, the Western Hockey League announced Tuesday afternoon it will delay the start of the 2020-21 WHL regular season.
In June, the league announced a hopeful start date of Oct. 2 and with a 68-game schedule.
That was later bumped back to Dec. 4 and then Jan. 8
The board of governors plan to meet in January to consider potential start dates following further consultation with regional health authorities.
Speaking to the media in a darkened Enmax Centre concourse Wednesday afternoon, Hurricanes general manager Peter Anholt said the latest decision is out of his team’s control.
“We rely on the health authorities to give us direction on what we can do and what we can’t do. We’re prepared when we’re told we can go and be able to play. I feel very confident in our league that, being a development league, that everybody understands it’s important for us to play.”
Earlier this month, the provincial government announced stronger public health measures in light of rising COVID-19 cases.
“Our players have been so patient through this whole thing as in most cases,” said Anholt. “We’re all going through it in one way, shape or form. It’s one of things (where) this, too, shall pass at some point. It’s just a matter of at what point can we actually play and when we do we have some really strong protocols in place. We have a committee that has overseen that part of it and put some strong protocols to protect people and to put us in a position where we’re going to be successful when we do have a chance.”
The Canes general manager said another bump-back start date is difficult for the players.
“I think frustrating is probably a good a word as anything, and concerned that the season is going to be lost,” said Anholt. “We continue to try and re-affirm we’re going to play when we can, whatever that looks like, and when we do we’re going to give a really good development model for them when they come in and a safe environment for them to feel comfortable.
“But it’s hard for them. They’ve been sitting tight and I give our players so much credit and the leadership group and the coaching staff because we’re all trying to find a way to muddle this thing together and be safe, but still give our kids the opportunity to develop.”
Aholt said he remains optimistic the puck will eventually drop with his team scheduled to play Central Division opponents.
When the Jan. 8 start date was announced in mid-October, teams were scheduled to only play in their division to minimize travel and eliminate cross-border trips.
“The other divisions have their own challenges, but I think in the Central Division all of the teams are pretty like-minded in what we’re expecting and what we can do with our teams and eliminate overnight stays and the all-day trips and mostly weekend games,” said Anholt. “So we’ll try to make it as simple as possible with lots of practice time and development time when that happens.”
Anholt said there hasn’t been a deadline date to get the league going, but had no problem playing into the warmer months if need be.
“There is lots of spring hockey and if we have to find a way to continue on – if it’s not in February or it’s March, April, May or June, whatever – spring hockey is played and I know we certainly wouldn’t be opposed to it, but there would be lots of discussion around the league about that and what our government and health authorities are going to allow us to do. But once that comes about we’ll be full-on and let’s get going.”
As far as a potential bubble situation goes, Anholt said everything is on the table to be discussed.
However, the Canes GM would prefer to remain situated in their Enmax Centre home.
“I like the opportunity for the players to come into our centre and we can actually work out here and have a real tight bubble-like situation here,” said Anholt. “We’ve talked about some different things that could make that better for us here. But if it’s a five-team bubble situation, that could be looked at, too. But for me, I’d prefer we stay in our own centre and then travel day-in and day-out, same-day travel. But right now, there are so many questions about what it’s going to look like, whether it’s a 24-game schedule and playing a division champion.”
Anholt noted the Memorial Cup is still scheduled for June in either Oshawa or Sault Ste. Marie.
“That’s still there and talked about on a regular basis of how that’s going to look,” he said. “But that seems like a pie in the sky for what we really need to be doing with our players.”
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