Another day, another couple of examples of COVID-19 playing havoc with the hockey world. First it was the Quebec League, a league that has tried valiantly to play a season in 2020-21, having to shut down its operations until at least early January because there are basically only four teams in the league that can travel and play at the moment. The QMJHL was supposed to play 64 more games between Dec. 1 and Dec. 19, when it was planning to pause for the holidays, but announced Monday that its holiday break begins now and players will be sent home.
Then later in the afternoon, TheHockeyNews.com reported that 18 members of the Mount Royal University Cougars men’s hockey team in Calgary, which plays in the Canada West Universities Athletic Association, have tested positive for COVID-19 and that program has also been shut down until at least early January.
Add to that there have been mini-outbreaks with both the Columbus Blue Jackets and Vegas Golden Knights, who were holding informal workouts at their facilities, and you have to wonder whether the NHL is going to be able to go ahead and have anything resembling a normal season. Forget about the fact that the league and the players can’t even agree on the language in their own collective bargaining agreement at the moment. When an NFL team has four players at its most important position test positive and have to turn to an undrafted wide receiver who played backup quarterback in college, you know the virus is running rampant.
“The current situation with the pandemic in the regions in which we operate makes it extremely difficult to play games,” QMJHL commissioner Gilles Courteau said in a news release. “With the holidays just around the corner, the provinces in the Maritimes have restricted access and travel, while red zone restrictions in Quebec do not permit us to play.”
The only teams in the 18-team league that are not in areas that are currently either red zones or closed to outside travel are the Baie Comeau Drakkar, Rimouski Oceanic, Val d’Or Foreurs and Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. The league, with a $20 million infusion of taxpayer money, has been trying to run its season since October, but some teams have played as many as 16 games, while the Sherbrooke Phoenix have played only five.
In Calgary, the Mount Royal announced the outbreak among team members who were practising while actually going beyond Alberta government protocols that allowed for full teams to be practising. “The team ceased training when the first individual experienced symptoms and members are self-isolating,” the university said in a statement. “MRU did contract tracing and notified the impacted individuals. Cougars teams were training under multiple safety protocols beyond those required by the provincial government. With the government restrictions, no varsity programs will be training until after the new year.”
QMJHL commissioner Courteau will hold a news conference Tuesday morning, but it’s not known what the league will do to make up for the lost games once it does return. When the league announced its return-to-play protocols, it had scheduled a 60-game season, a number that looks like an impossibility at the moment. Going into the early pause, the league had already postponed more than half of its games, playing 112 and postponing 97.
So if the NHL does ever get around to coming to agreement with its players that will allow it to play the 2020-21 season, there’s a pretty good chance the same things that have been happening in the NFL and the QMJHL will happen there. Plans will change. Outbreaks will happen. Games will be postponed or cancelled. At this point, even a 48-game season that begins sometime in January and ends with the Stanley Cup being awarded in mid-July looks like anything but a sure thing.