The Western Hockey League announced on Wednesday afternoon that the 2019-20 regular season has seen its conclusion. This inevitable early conclusion – due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic – has come with all 22 league teams having played somewhere from 62-64 of the scheduled 68 regular season games.
“The WHL takes the safety of our players, officials, staff, fans, and everyone associated with the WHL very seriously,” said WHL Commissioner Ron Robison in a league-issued press release. “Given the ongoing public health developments regarding COVID-19, we deemed it necessary to cancel the remaining games on the 2019-20 WHL Regular Season Schedule.”
Final standings have been determined, based on win percentage, which interestingly enough follows the exact current standings which had been based on total points accumulated through 93 percent of the 2019-20 season. The league does not yet know when its postseason will occur, but the plan at this point is to host a full playoff schedule once resumption is safe, as indicated by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We will continue to monitor ongoing public health developments regarding COVID-19. We will make every effort possible to conduct the 2020 WHL Playoffs at a later date. We thank WHL fans and partners for your patience and understanding during these challenging times.”
Following the surprise conclusion of regular season play, the Brandon Wheat Kings and Winnipeg ICE will set their sights on an all-Manitoban, opening round best-of-seven series between the province’s capital and its second-largest city.
Finishing the season just one point apart, with Winnipeg occupying the second seed in the East Division, while Brandon holding down third place, the two teams did have five games each left to play, with two of those games coming against one another.
After both squads missed the postseason following the 2018-19 WHL season, the 2020 WHL playoffs will unfortunately only last one round for one of the competitors. Already squaring off eight times this season, the two teams are .500 against one another, with each side picking up four wins to go along with four losses.
Brandon does hold the advantage when it comes to goal scoring, as the Wheat Kings have tallied 31 markers against the ICE, while Winnipeg has put up 27 goals against Brandon thus far. Each team has won two of four road contests and two of four home games against their provincial rivals.
Three of Winnipeg’s victories over Brandon came by just one goal, while three of Brandon’s victories over Winnipeg held a goal differential of 2+ goals, with two contests seeing the Wheat Kings put up seven goals (7-2, 7-4). Issac Johnson (28 goals, 73 points) and Michal Teply (29 goals, 63 points) lead the way offensively for Winnipeg, while Luka Burzan (35 goals, 62 points) and Ben McCartney (25 goals, 61 points) are Brandon’s top dogs.
With netminders Dean McNabb and Jesse Makaj taking on the bulk of the work in the first five outing of the season against the Wheaties, the ICE have come to rely on backstops Liam Hughes and Gage Alexander following the departure of both players. Hughes has fared well, going 2-1-0 against Brandon, including two wins in his last two starts. Jiri Patera has started seven of the eight contests against the ICE, to which he holds a 4-3-0 record.
The teams were scheduled to renew their rivalry with a home-and-home series in Winnipeg on Friday, March 20, and the following day in Brandon to close out the regular season. Now, with their players informed to head back to their home cities/countries, the next steps as to resumption of play will be made known in the coming weeks/months.