COVID-19 forces Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to suspend play in Quebec

COVID-19 has forced the QMJHL to suspend play in Quebec. Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) has suspended play in both of its Quebec-based divisions until at least Oct. 28 because of COVID-19.

The league will continue play with five of six teams in the Maritimes Division. The Moncton Wildcats will not play for now because of New Brunswick government restrictions in the area.

The league’s Assembly of Members made the decision on Wednesday. The QMJHL plans to reassess the situation in two weeks.

“There’s nothing wrong with taking a step back to come back in a stronger position,” league commissioner Gilles Courteau said Wednesday.

The league says continuing play in Quebec became almost impossible with six of 12 teams located in red zones, where organized sport is prohibited.

Read more: QMJHL’s Blainville-Boisbriand Armada has 18 positive coronavirus tests

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The league, which opened its season on Oct. 2, had outbreaks on two teams last week.

The Blainville-Boisbriand Armada announced they had 18 positive tests, while the Sherbrooke Phoenix said they had eight after the two teams played each other twice on the first weekend of the season. Both teams suspended all activities and went into isolation after the positive tests.

Early last week, the Quebec government announced the Montreal and Quebec areas were being classified as COVID red zones, preventing the Armada and Quebec Remparts from playing games.

The positive tests and the hot-zone announcement led to the postponements of 10 games.

Since then, more red zones have been announced, affecting play for other teams.

“The fact (the Quebec government) has determined more red zones on a weekly or biweekly basis, I think it was important for us to make the right decision and to be proactive in regard to our situation,” Courteau said.

“It was better for us to put our 12 Quebec-based teams on pause and work with Quebec public health, and see what we have to do to make any improvements.”

Read more: QMJHL facing serious coronavirus challenges after new restrictions, positive test

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QMJHL teams have been playing solely within their divisions, meaning the six Maritime clubs remain in the Atlantic bubble.

The QMJHL is the only one of three Canadian major-junior hockey leagues to have opened play this season.

The Western Hockey League announced Wednesday that its season will start Jan. 8, while the Ontario Hockey League has said it hopes to start in December.

Ontario sport minister Lisa MacLeod said recently that contact and bodychecking would make it difficult for the provincial government to approve play in the OHL.

The OHL and WHL also have American teams and would need to address the difficulties in crossing a border closed to non-essential traffic. The WHL said its teams will only face opposition from their own division, meaning its five-U.S.-based teams will only play each other.

All three leagues halted play last season shortly after the pandemic hit in March. League playoffs and the Memorial Cup were eventually cancelled.

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