Western Hockey League announces plan to begin next regular season Jan. 8

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The Western Hockey League’s board of governors announced Wednesday that the junior hockey league’s next regular season is scheduled to begin in early 2021.

“The WHL is very excited to be opening our WHL regular season on Jan. 8,” Commissioner Ron Robison said in a news release.

“The WHL is a world-class development league and we remain fully committed to providing our players with the highest level of training, coaching and competition in the system.”

In March, the league cancelled the remainder of its 2019-20 season after the COVID-19 pandemic hit North America.

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READ MORE: Coronavirus: WHL cancels remainder of 2019-20 regular season 

The public health crisis has presented significant challenges for both professional and developmental hockey leagues trying to follow public health guidelines and mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The WHL said Wednesday that it has yet to decide whether fans will be able to attend games this season, and added that decision will be “subject to the approval of the health authorities in each jurisdiction.”

The WHL will not take the National Hockey League’s “bubble” approach to resuming play, which saw teams competing for the Stanley Cup play in cordoned-off arenas in Toronto and Edmonton earlier this year.

READ MORE: NHL says targeted start date for 2020-21 season now Jan. 1 

“The WHL has agreed that all regular season games during the 2020-21 season will be played exclusively within the boundaries of each of the four divisions, with the East Division consisting of the seven Saskatchewan and Manitoba-based teams; the Central Division consisting of the five Alberta-based teams; the B.C. Division consisting of the five B.C.-based teams; and the U.S. Division consisting of the five teams located in Washington and Oregon,” the league said.

READ MORE: COVID-19 outbreak forces 2nd Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team to suspend activities

The league also said Wednesday that it has appointed Dr. Dhiren Naidu of Edmonton as its chief medical adviser. The doctor is an associate professor at the University of Alberta and also serves as the Edmonton Oilers’ lead team physician.

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“Naidu will be assisting the WHL with the implementation of its comprehensive health and safety protocol, in consultation with provincial and state health authorities,” the WHL said in a news release.

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The president and general manager of the Kelowna Rockets said he’s guarded about the Jan. 8 date.

“We’re thrilled that there’s a date, but we need health boards and things like that to make sure everything works,” said Bruce Hamilton, who’s also the chairman of the WHL’s board of governors.

He said players won’t be reporting until after Christmas, adding this season has been difficult “because we’re running a business and there’s been virtually no revenue.”

“It’s going to be a test for all 22 teams to get through this. Hopefully, we get an opportunity to get our businesses running again, because our business is selling tickets – that’s the biggest challenge ahead of us all,” Hamilton added.

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