Late Wednesday evening, the Manitoba Junior Hockey League announced its official return to play action plan for the 2020-21 season. Included within the release is the anticipated start date of Friday, October 9, as well as the announcement of the opening of training camps, set for Friday, September 18.
Operating under Hockey Canada and Hockey Manitoba rulings, the MJHL will follow set protocol in hopes to run a tight ship in its return to play following the unforeseen circumstances surrounding the sudden pause-turned-cancellation of the 2019-20 playoffs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The MJHL and league commissioner Kevin Saurette announced that Manitoba’s ‘Junior A’ hockey league has been in conversation with its two governing bodies, as well as Manitoba Public Health Authorities and Sport Manitoba since June to ensure the safety of its players, coaches, staff, fans and overall hockey community when it does return to regular action.
“On behalf of the MJHL Board of Governors and with the support of Sport Manitoba and approval by the Hockey Manitoba Board of Directors, we are excited to share that MJHL Hockey will be returning to the province in October” Saurette said in a league-issued press release Wednesday evening.
“We believe our thoroughly provincially vetted MJHL Return to Play -Phase ll Guidelines will provide the MJHL, all member teams, players, staff, officials, volunteers, stakeholders, fans and communities with the best position to return to and enjoy hockey in a safe, structured and responsible manner, in accordance with all necessary public health and facility guidelines. The league and member teams also understand the immense responsibility we have been provided as we move forward with the 2020-21 season.”
In exhibiting extreme caution, the MJHL felt that an early-October return to play would be the best case scenario, considering the cancellation of last year’s postseason. With the health and safety of each organization involved in mind, the governing bodies of the league thanked each club for the overall due diligence and respect to policy that the managers, coaching staff, players and fans have displayed over the past number of months:
“Each organization is to be commended for their absolute commitment to providing elite development opportunities both on and off the ice in the face of these financial challenges with the health and safety of all involved always being the number one priority,” the statement read. “Teams will need and deserve all the support they can be afforded during this time as we return to the game we all love.”
Points of interest pertaining to the upcoming 2020-21 MJHL season:
- MJHL Regular Season to begin on Friday, October 9.
- MJHL Main Camps will begin on September 18 with no more than 34 players in attendance.
- Teams will play no more than three exhibition games.
- Games involving out-of-province teams are not permitted.
- Players/Staff and Officials are required to wear face masks while entering/exiting and within the arena for MJHL sanctioned activities while not on the ice.
- Players/Staff are required to wear face masks while traveling to and from games (on the bus, entering/exiting restaurants and hotels, etc.)
- All participants are to avoid handshakes, fist bumps, hugs or physical contact.
- All participants are to avoid pre and post game huddles along with goal celebrations that involve extended physical contact.
- Individuals may not share equipment of any kind (sticks, apparel, water bottles, towels, etc)
- Individuals may not share clothing, soap, shampoo or other personal items such as razors and towels.
- Absolutely no sharing of food or drinks. Absolutely no spitting of any kind.
- Up to 35 percent of facility capacity for MJHL pre-season games played from September 18, 2020 to October 8, 2020.
- Up to 50 percent of facility capacity to begin the MJHL regular season on October 9, 2020.
- Strongly encouraged to wear face masks while in any MJHL facility during MJHL activity while following all necessary distancing and facility guidelines.
- Teams running previously scheduled prospect/development camps prior to September 18 are expected to follow the new guidelines. Full contact is not permitted during these camps.
The 2020-21 season schedule will be significantly modified to mitigate risk of spread or potential contact between multiple teams and to allow for minimal disruption of the schedule in the event of a positive COVID-19 case. The MJHL Return to Play – Phase II Guidelines will remain fluid and flexible to accommodate the necessary response to advice from public health authorities. More information, including a full league schedule is expected to be released before September.