Q-league teams planning return to ice in new year

·3 min read

Teams in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League are already laying plans to get back on the ice in the new year.

The 18-team league suspended all games until at least Jan. 3 after COVID-19 spiked in Quebec and the travel bubble in Atlantic provinces collapsed.

Cape Breton Eagles president Gerard Shaw said the shutdown is unfortunate, but there is still hope for a return to the modified schedule that was already underway.

"This is the way it is, but this is the COVID world that we live in and we knew there would be some glitches along the way," he said.

"We had hoped it wasn't going to be our division, but it happened and now we've got to shut down for a few weeks to regroup and hopefully this gets better and we're able to play again after Christmas."

The league is hoping to get back to its modified schedule as planned, but Shaw said if public health officials in Quebec and the Maritimes won't allow interprovincial travel in January, the league is considering creating bubbles within the provinces.

League considering 'mini-bubbles'

Several teams in Quebec had relocated to Quebec City for a series of games because of restrictions earlier in November.

"We're looking to resume, bring the players back on [Jan. 3] and quarantining as per the provincial health authority's guidelines, and we'll do that and hopefully we're back the way we started with our divisional rivals and being able to play our divisional games and make up the games that we lost," Shaw said.

"There's some consideration now to doing some mini-bubbles in the Maritimes ... and playing in a protected environment, but still potentially allowing our fans to come, depending on what Public Health requires."

The details are still to be worked out, but the league is discussing initially having four groupings of teams in Quebec and two groupings in the Maritimes for a weekend schedule of two games in three days.

That would be followed by the creation of three groups of four teams in Quebec playing six games per team over nine days at the end of January and grouping six Maritimes teams that would play five games over eight days.

The plan would be reconsidered after that.

During the December break, players are expected to skate and maintain condition, and when they come back, there will have to be "almost like a mini training camp" to get in some practices, Shaw said.

Eagles aiming for 30 home games

The pandemic has been difficult and stressful on players and challenging financially for teams and the league, he said.

In Nova Scotia, that includes Cape Breton and the Halifax Mooseheads.

Eagles shareholders are committed to the season, aiming for 30 home games, said Shaw.

The team has already played 15 games, eight of which were at home in the Centre 200 arena with reduced capacity in the stands.

'A lot of unknowns'

Shaw said he is not sure what will happen if the number of games drops below the target.

The Western Hockey League has said it plans to start the season in January, while the Ontario Hockey League has targeted February.

Shaw said he's also not sure what will happen if the other leagues do not play at all and what that would mean for the Q-league post-season.

"There's a lot of unknowns at this point," he said. "For us, we're able to play, we want to play ... have some normality for our fans and for people to get a little bit of entertainment.

"We're the only game in town, for the most part, that you're able to go to get an entertaining event, so we're hoping that continues. How long can it continue? That'll be dictated by COVID."