Big news for the Manitoba junior hockey scene dropped on Friday night: The Western Hockey League is coming back. For Manitoba’s two WHL teams, the Brandon Wheat Kings and Winnipeg ICE, this means that players currently weighing their options for the 2020-21 season may have just been provided some clarity – or even more questions for some.
It may not be the prototypical 68-game season that fans from BC to Manitoba have come to adore, but it will be major junior hockey and it will be played in the coming months, according to a league release that arrived Friday evening.
Having battled health and safety clearance issues in four Canadian provinces and two US states for the better part of the past year, the WHL will continue to work with the various jurisdictions to ensure that a safe return to play is at the forefront of the focus.
“The WHL Board of Governors have made a commitment to play a WHL 2020-21 Regular Season,” the WHL announced. “The start date for the season will be determined once final approval has been received from the Health Authorities in each provincial and state jurisdiction and it is anticipated the approvals will be received soon.”
Although this news comes across as promising, the league, its Board of Governors, the owners, team staff and players now have much work to do in order to prepare for the upcoming 2020-21 season. To be played out in just 24 games per team, the upcoming year of hockey will look different, but despite all going on in the world, the season will begin this winter, and finish with a postseason of sorts.
“The Western Hockey League is committed to providing a season for WHL players,” Robison said. “This commitment ensures WHL players will receive the opportunity to compete at the highest level in the system and continue to pursue their hockey goals in the world’s finest development league for junior hockey players.”
It is yet to be determined how the teams will function division-wise. Unable to travel across the Canada-USA border, it is a given that the five American markets will only play amongst themselves, while the remaining Canadian divisions will most likely only need some minor re-shuffling in order to create workable schedules involving minimal travel and maximum hockey in the significantly shortened calendar year.
Whether fans will be in attendance, is most likely out of the question, at least in Manitoba, for now. And how the postseason will look? That’s an entirely different ball-game. But until then, happy dreaming!