A week away from the start of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s season, things are shaping up to be as turbulent as the last.
Time on the ice in 2020/21 was restricted to teams mostly playing within their own province with limited, if any, fans in the stands amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The league operates in Quebec, New Brunswick, P.E.I. and Nova Scotia – and navigating the changing public safety restrictions across four separate provinces proved to be a challenging task.
“We had a plan one week and the next week we had to throw it in the garbage and restart again,” says QMJHL Communications Director Maxime Blouin.
“Depending on the mood of the government and how it goes in their province we have different directives and different directions.”
The introduction of Health Canada-approved COVID-19 vaccinations brought hope that 2021/22 might be a little more uniform.
Releasing its schedule in the summer, the league announced hopes to return to a full 612-game regular season – with each team playing 34 home games as well as those on the road.
It also announced requirements for every player, staff member and billet family member to be fully vaccinated in order to participate.
“It was important to us,” Blouin says. “Especially after what we experienced last year. We had some COVID outbreaks and we don’t want to relive that this year.”
Blouin says players complied, getting their shots in time for development camps.
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Fans hoping to watch in person will also have to be fully vaccinated – though arenas aim to be at full capacity for each game.
That plan could of course change with the league, venues and teams at the mercy of each province’s rules.
“We’re following public health’s guidelines,” says Halifax Mooseheads president Brian Urquhart. “They’re the leaders on this.”
Nova Scotia’s on track to loosen restrictions a little further on Oct. 4.
If that happens, Mooseheads fans will only need to mask up for the team’s home opener – with masks not required under Phase 5 of the province’s COVID-19 recovery plan.
New Brunswick, however, just tightened restrictions – reintroducing its emergency order after two months completely restriction-free.
Urquhart says fans have been understanding of the fluidity of the situation thus far, and he hopes that trend continues.
“They’ve been on the same roller coaster that we’ve been on,” he says. “We’re going to make sure everybody attending a Mooseheads game is safe, first and foremost.”
Should capacity limits be reintroduced anywhere the QMJHL plays, Blouin says he anticipates ticketholders will understand the need to refund seats.
“We know we had this experience last year and we’re able to say: ‘OK, this is coming up and we have to adapt,’” he says.
“People understand. They’re all in the same situation with us.”
All 18 teams in the league are set to hit the ice for the first games of the season on Oct. 1.