Hockey returns: Regina approved as WHL's eastern division hub city

·3 min read
Teams in the eastern division of the WHL will play in the hub city, Regina, creating a bubble similar to those of the NHL or NBA last season.
Teams in the eastern division of the WHL will play in the hub city, Regina, creating a bubble similar to those of the NHL or NBA last season.

(Lucas Chudleigh/Apollo Multimedia)

Junior hockey fans can rejoice again: live Western Hockey League games are coming to Regina, though spectators won't be able to attend in person for now.

The Queen City has been approved as a hub centre for eastern division clubs from Saskatchewan and Manitoba. This means the league can open its season in the city on March 12.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe announced the news on Twitter on Friday.

"The WHL's hub format has been backed up by an impressive and extensive set of protocols reviewed and approved by public health officials in Saskatchewan," Moe said in a tweet.

WHL commissioner Ron Robison said both the Saskatchewan and Manitoba governments have co-operated with the league. Manitoba has announced in its latest rules that the league is cleared to play.

"With our extensive protocols and the necessary approvals now in place, we are looking forward to play getting underway in Regina and allowing our players to continue their development at the highest level in the Canadian system," Robison said in a WHL statement Friday.

Seven WHL clubs will form the eastern division, according to the league: the Moose Jaw Warriors, Prince Albert Raiders, Regina Pats, Saskatoon Blades, Swift Current Broncos, Brandon Wheat Kings and Winnipeg Ice.

All games will be played exclusively at the Brandt Centre in Regina. The eastern division will play a regular 24-game schedule, which will be announced at a later date.

Practices will also take place at Brandt Centre for the most part, according to John Paddock, vice president of hockey operations and general manager of the Regina Pats.

The seven Sask. and Manitoba-based teams will be quarantined separately before the season starts and will live at the University of Regina during both the quarantine period and the season.

The university is currently nearly empty due to classes being online.

Paddock said everyone is excited to get back to the game.

"Our league is excited every time one of their divisions ... gets the go-ahead, it's a big sign," said Paddock.

He said a general manager from another division told him it's been 342 days since he saw his own team play.

"This has affected every age group in hockey," Paddock said. "I'm really excited that they can get back to playing and work to develop."

Fans of the teams will not be able to attend the games, but will be able to live stream them. Details on the new WHL Live will be announced soon, according to the league.

There will be extensive protocols to follow in order to keep everyone safe, including private COVID-19 testing on site.

Players, team staff and officials will be screened daily, and teams will be tested for COVID-19 weekly. The tests will be conducted by DynaLife Medical Labs, a private Canadian diagnostics testing laboratory whose main facility is in Edmonton, a news release from the league says.

Should a player or staff member test positive for COVID-19, that team's activities will be suspended for at least 14 days.