The Charlottetown Islanders are moving forward with the assumption there will be a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League season this year.
But with COVID-19 restriction still in place, who they will be playing, and how many people there will be in the stands, remains to be seen.
The league has submitted a return to play protocol that has been approved by the Quebec provincial government. The teams in the Maritimes, which include the Islanders, three teams in New Brunswick and two in Nova Scotia, are waiting on approval from their respective provinces.
Islanders coach and general manager Jim Hulton said he anticipates that to happen before the end of the week.
"The model at the moment is that we would divide our league into three divisions of six, which would allow the 12 Quebec-based teams [to stay in] Quebec, and then the six Maritime teams will play a 60-game schedule amongst ourselves."
Season would start in October
Training camp would begin at the end of August, with the season starting at the beginning of October.
The playoffs, Hulton said, would have to be figured out later, depending on the travel restrictions in place when April rolls around.
"The optimistic perspective is that things start to open up closer to the new year and we can maybe look at expanding into that at that point, but this allows us to, I think, adhere to the provincial standards obviously of the Atlantic bubble," he said.
We're pretty excited about the season, that's why selfishly we're willing to do whatever it takes to get a season going. — Jim Hulton
"One of the big things coming out of the return to play protocol was the minimization of overnight stays and extended bus travel. So by staying within our own little regions we seem to be able to accomplish that."
In the meantime, it's all systems go for the Islanders. Last month the team traded for goalie Colten Ellis, a St. Louis Blues prospect from Whycocomagh, N.S., to replace mainstay Matthew Welsh, who finished his junior career last season.
Several players are returning from last year, including standout defenceman Lukas Cormier, who is attending Canada's national junior team summer development camp.
In the last couple days, the Islanders signed their top prospect, Sam Oliver of Quispamsis, N.B., as well as their two imports, Jakub Brabenec and Matous Mensik of the Czech Republic.
Some players will need to self-isolate
Brabenec and Mensik, as well as about eight players on the roster from Quebec, will still have to self-isolate for 14 days when they arrive on P.E.I., Hulton said.
"We're pretty excited about the season, that's why selfishly we're willing to do whatever it takes to get a season going," he said. "We really like our team."
The question is, how many fans will be allowed into the Eastlink Centre to watch them play?
"Any of the attendance things will have to be decided on closer to that magic Oct. 1 mark," Hulton said.
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