WHL reveals plans for 50-game regular season with fans in the stands

The Calgary Hitmen and Winnipeg Ice stand together to #EndBullying prior to Thursday's WHL game. Cami Kepke / Global News

It’s a case of better late than never as the Western Hockey League intends to return to play in the new year, with training camps to open after Christmas.

The league has set a firm date of Jan. 8 to kick off their regular season after the pandemic shut everything down in March.

It’ll be almost four months later than usual, but the initial plans is play up to a 50-game schedule, which is well short of their usual 68-game campaign.

And the league hopes to have fans in the stands with a goal of 50 per cent of seating capacity.

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

“That’s our objective, but we recognize that ultimately that will be determined by the health authorities,” WHL commission Ron Robison said.

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“Those discussions are ongoing, and we’re looking forward to getting some clarification on that soon, but the number may be significantly lower than 50 per cent.”

The WHL hopes to have a schedule together by mid to late November, but to limit travel the league will look vastly different, with only inter-division games.

That means the Winnipeg Ice and Brandon Wheat Kings will be playing exclusively against Prince Albert, Saskatoon, Regina, Moose Jaw and Swift Current.

“We’re certainly going to try and minimize, first of all, overnight stays,” Robison said. “Reduce that to the extent that we can.”

But with teams from Manitoba to face teams from Saskatchewan, they’ll first need approval for inter-provincial travel. And if the COVID-19 situation doesn’t improve, the league may not be able to hold a full playoff series.

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With five American-based clubs, the Canada-U.S. border would have to reopen to determine a champion.

Read more: WHL cancels remainder of 2019-20 regular season

“We haven’t even got to discussion on playoffs yet,” said Robison.

“In the event we’re not successful in the border opening, and there is a cancellation of the Memorial Cup, which we hope doesn’t happen, we would have to come up with an alternate format for playoffs, which may include determining or declaring four champions within our divisions.”

The commissioner expects teams will have significant financial losses this season, but he doesn’t believe any teams will have to fold.

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