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Maritime QMJHL teams eager to return to ice soon, but COVID-19 could make that difficult

Click to play video: 'Fans, team remain hopeful Quebec Major Junior Hockey League season to return' Fans, team remain hopeful Quebec Major Junior Hockey League season to return
The league season is scheduled to return next Friday, but things might be on ice in the Maritimes with the loss of the Atlantic travel bubble. As Callum Smith reports, fans and teams still remain hopeful the puck can drop soon – Jan 15, 2021

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) season is scheduled to return next Friday, at least for teams in Quebec, despite the curfews imposed in that province. But things might be on ice in the Maritimes with no more “Atlantic (travel) bubble.”

New Brunswick continues to post double-digit COVID-19 case numbers daily. But fans and teams are still hopeful the puck can drop soon.

Many of the Moncton Wildcats are still self-isolating after returning to the city following the holiday break.

“We plan on restarting our practices on Monday of next week and getting ready for potential resumption of the season later on here in January or early February,” says Ritchie Thibeau, the director of hockey operations for the Wildcats.

Regardless, the league has yet to formally reveal its plan — if any — for hockey to return in the Maritimes.

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“We should have an update Monday or Tuesday,” says Maxime Blouin, a QMJHL spokesperson.

Read more: Rock and a hard place: Moncton Wildcats excited for extended holiday break but want to be on the ice

There have been no games since November. The league announced it was extending the holiday break, allowing for players to return home to their families while accommodating isolation requirements.

But having six teams in three Maritime provinces is proving to be challenging with different COVID-19 case numbers, protocols and isolation requirements.

Fans like Wildcast Podcast host Adam Lund say it would mean a lot to have the game back.

“Because it’s somewhat normal,” he says. “We’re not living in a normal world, we’re trying to adjust as much as we can.”

Cape Breton Eagles President Gerard Shaw is also optimistic games can start up in the coming weeks.

“We’re working on a few plans to try to get us back to hockey before or towards the end of the month,” he says, “with the goal of hoping that the borders will open up provincially and we return to play with our maritime division sometime in February.”

But New Brunswick is in the orange phase of its COVID-19 recovery plan, meaning no sports games can be played.

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Sporting events are also a no-go in Nova Scotia right now, according to its provincial COVID-19 restrictions website.

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, says discussions with the league continue.

“We recognize the importance of hockey, but protecting the health and safety of Nova Scotians will always come first.”

Read more: Coronavirus: QMJHL weighing different scenarios as it plans for a return to play in 2021

Meanwhile, Shaw says possibilities could eventually include the two Nova Scotia teams playing against Charlottetown, and the three New Brunswick teams playing each other for a few weeks until the isolation requirements could hopefully be lifted.

Quebec games have no fans and are in so-called “protected environments,” which would likely see two markets in the Maritimes host three teams.

But Shaw says without financial support from the provincial government like teams in Quebec are receiving, fans are and sponsors are needed to stay afloat.

“I don’t see any model right now that makes sense for us without fans in the building,” he says in an interview.

But fans are trying to remain optimistic

“I just try to wait for the best news possible,” says Lund.

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