As teams, players and fans wait to see when and if the Western Hockey League (WHL) will begin a regular season in 2021 as the coronavirus pandemic continues, business matters for the individual teams are also in limbo.
The league said last week was still waiting to hear from health officials but they expected to play a shortened season, with each team playing just 24 games.
“The Western Hockey League is committed to providing a season for WHL players,” WHL commissioner Ron Robison said.
“The start date for the season will be determined once final approval has been received from the health authorities in each provincial and state jurisdiction, and it is anticipated the approvals will be received soon,” said a post on their website Jan. 8.
Until they know if there are games to be played there is not much that can be done. If there are games, will fans be allowed? And if so, how many?
Until those questions are answered, the Saskatoon Blades have decided to hold off on offering potential season ticket packages.
“We sent out some surveys to our fans in the fall,” said Tyler Wawryk, Blades director of business operations.
“To get a feel for where they were at and their thoughts on returning to the rink, if it’s a possibility this year, what that looks like, what their expectations are — we just wanted to get a feel for everyone, but for the most part we’ve been waiting.”
Once again it remains up in the air as to when the season will begin, but the Blades are optimistic that there will be WHL hockey this winter and because of the size of SaskTel Centre, they are better positioned to weather restrictions than most.
“We have a world-class facility — one of the largest arenas in the (WHL) that isn’t an NHL arena,” Wawryk said.
“So we’re confident that whenever we are able to open the doors that we are going to do it safely and still provide a fun entertaining atmosphere.”
The Prince Albert Raiders have a very different scenario. They have one of the smaller arenas in the league, so if the ruling is to allow fans based on a percentage of the building’s capacity, the Raiders wouldn’t have very many. They may have to rely on other forms of commerce to generate revenues.
“You know, especially if you are talking in Saskatchewan with inter-provincial travel not recommended with people outside your household, outside your exact household members, it becomes impossible to get your players here and two put them up in billets,” stated Michael Scissons, Raiders business manager.
“Going into 2021 we know it is going to be an outstanding year and it is going to put 2020 to shame in a lot of areas and hopefully that means the return of WHL hockey in late January, early February.”
–With files from Phil Heidenreich