Well, this sucks. There’s no way around it. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench in the plans of everyone in and outside of hockey. We’ve had to isolate, social distance, wear masks, and make numerous other sacrifices for the greater good and most of us are perfectly fine doing so because we know it’s what needs to be done. In sports, we’ve seen so many leagues start late, start and stop, pause, cut the season short and so many other weird little quirks that players, fans, and teams are not accustomed to. For OHL players, the season never started and now it’s been announced that it will officially not happen with the 2020-21 season being officially canceled by the league. This comes a week after the CHL announced that the Memorial Cup would not be played this year with COVID continuing to wreak havoc across North America. The league had plans to return and they had a four-hub plan to get the league off the ground as recently as this past month but with stay-at-home orders issued and rising COVID numbers in Ontario, the league had to put that plan aside.
How does this affect the OHL?
This certainly isn’t good for the league. Teams have employees who were furloughed who were relying on the league’s return so that they could return to work. From concession staff to arena maintenance employees to the game day event teams, the heart of junior hockey often comes from the faces that you’ve seen at the rink for the past 15 years. The owners are losing money – and likely would have if the season went off as well – but that’s an issue we’ve seen across sports at every level. As unfortunate as it is, it seems to be one of the factors that owners must deal with in an unprecedented era of sports.
The teams that were building towards the league championship and a Memorial Cup bid will all be missing out on an opportunity that doesn’t come around all that often. Junior hockey is cyclical and teams plan a few years in advance to get their ‘window to win’ on an ideal timeline to build towards a specific year or two. Whether you root for the Oshawa Generals or Soo Greyhounds who were bidding to be the Memorial Cup host this year or teams like the Saginaw Spirit or Sudbury Wolves who were hoping to compete with some returning stars, this is a lost year where being competitive was likely planned a few seasons back.
Photo courtesy of the Chicago Steel
One factor I’ve seen mentioned a few times is that the OHL will be affected by this when it comes to European recruiting and recruiting OHL draft picks to play in the OHL rather than taking alternative routes. When it comes to the European players, I don’t know how much it will affect things. It was already a unique and difficult decision to leave home and come to North America regardless