It will be at least 272 days between the Lethbridge Hurricanes’ last regular season game — a 5-4 loss in Kelowna — and their next.
After tentatively targeting an Oct. 2, 2020 start date for the 2020-21 season in June, the Western Hockey League announced on Thursday that the upcoming season’s start date has now been pushed to Friday, Dec. 2.
Hurricanes general manager Peter Anholt says the decision didn’t come as a shock to anyone in the organization.
“I think all of us knew that things were progressing in a way that it didn’t look like it was going to be Oct. 2,” he said. “So we were all poising ourselves for it and positioning ourselves for it.”
A statement from the league on Thursday, cited a commitment to the health and safety of its players, officials, staff and fans.
“The opening date of the regular season remains contingent on receiving the necessary approvals from the government and health authorities in each of the six provincial/state jurisdictions in WHL territory,” the statement reads.
The WHL currently has 22 teams spread across those six jurisdictions.
“We’re similar to the NHL in a lot of ways,” Anholt said.
“We have four provinces to deal with, plus two states. So the challenges that the leadership of our league have to deal with — specifically [WHL Commissioner] Ron Robison — are significant.”
Anholt says that a “bubble” model like the one being used by the NHL isn’t realistic for a development league like the WHL, which relies heavily on ticket sales.
“The reality is, we need fans,” he said. “For us, I think the NHL playing and the success that they have had with their return-to-play protocols should help us in a lot of ways, and then it’s just a matter of adding fans.”
Anholt says that an exact date for Hurricanes training camp has not been set, but when players do arrive for camp in Lethbridge it will be on a much smaller scale than a traditional camp.
The WHL also has the added complication of many players in the league attending high school, something the GM says will look a little different for the school-age players in Lethbridge in 2020-21.
“We’ve decided to do distant learning with all of our high school kids,” Anholt said.
“Fortunately, with our team, we had such a young team last year — and we had so many school kids — this year we won’t have as many school kids, and we’ve just decided that they’re going to enter into distant learning back home.”
Players will register for online classes through their hometown districts, and Anholt says the goal will be for them to get ahead in their studies before they arrive in Lethbridge to live with their billet families.
The WHL’s statement on Thursday reiterated a commitment to playing a full, 68-game regular season schedule in 2020-21, as well as four rounds of playoffs.