Good morning Toronto Maple Leafs fans!
We’re on day two of a four day break from our Leafs, but thankfully there is news for you!
The Ontario Hockey League, the top development league in North America, has yet to return to play since they shut down in March of 2020. There have been rumoured dates that have come and gone, and we’ve seen the Quebec Major Junior League, the Western Hockey League, and the United States Hockey League play games over the course of the past few months (since September in the case of the QMJHL), but nothing from Ontario.
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the iffy response from the Ontario government - not to mention the closed border that would keep the leagues four American based team out of the country - it’s been hard to pin down when or how the OHL would return to play. One early idea cut body checking out entirely.
However, now, with not much changed from the fall or winter, the Ontario Government is set to give the green light for the OHL to gather in “bubbles”* and play out a shortened season.
*Real bubbles like the NHL or fake bubbles like everyone else?
From the London Free Press article:
“One is to make sure that referees and officials who are on ice are committed to a bubble, and that is something I believe we’re still working on with (public health) and the OHL,” MacLeod said. “The other is to make sure that the athletes, when they do arrive at a hub city and enter the bubble, will be safe and healthy because we don’t want to have a super-spreader event.”
That is no small speed bump. The majority of the league’s current officials hold regular jobs, though some work both the minor pro ranks and the junior circuit.
OHL commissioner David Branch would not discuss the amount of money each of the 20 teams would require to conduct an abbreviated campaign or offer any specific details on how bubbles and hub cities would operate. The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League was given $12 million by the Quebec provincial government while Western Hockey League aid ranged from $600,000 a team in Saskatchewan to a special lottery in Alberta.
Past reports have also linked some cities to hubs, but nothing specific has come of it. Former Maple Leafs Assistant General Manager Mark Hunter has spoken out of the London Knights hosting a hub. My guesses on hub cities are below.
West: Windsor Spitfires, Saginaw Spirit, Flint Firebirds, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Sarnia Sting.
Host: Windsor Spitfires. Windsor has plenty of hotel space, including Caesars Windsor which has almost 800 rooms and is attached to the Caesars Casino, which is currently closed. The WFCU Centre has not just an OHL sized rink, but also three other community rinks to use for practice, lounge areas, and meeting space. It also hosts gyms, and workout facilities that the players could take advantage of.
Midwest: London Knights, Kitchener Rangers, Owen Sound Attack, Guelph Storm, Erie Otters
Host: Kitchener Rangers. While London has made gestures about hosting a bubble of teams, their arena is a single use facility, where the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium Complex hosts three hockey rinks, a baseball stadium, and a track and field set up in Centennial Stadium. All of these facilities could be used NHL style to keep players occupied, fit, and give them plenty of space to spread out from each other.
Central Division: Barrie Colts, Mississauga Steelheads, Niagara IceDogs, North Bay Battalion, Sudbury Wolves
Host: Mississauga Steelheads. As much as I would love to have the bubble here in Niagara, the Paramount Fine Foods Centre is a much better complex for hosting multiple teams in an enclosed environment. Like Kitchener and Windsor, Mississauga’s complex has the main arena, a full sized basketball court, indoor soccer facility, gymnastics centre, and two outdoor soccer fields.
East Division: Hamilton Bulldogs, Oshawa Generals, Peterborough Petes, Ottawa Senators, Kitchener Rangers
Host: Ottawa 67’s. The 67’s play under the bleachers of a CFL stadium, so there’s plenty of space right there for teams to work out and practice around game times. Hamilton, Kingston, and Oshawa all have downtown arenas closed in by other buildings, where the Petes don’t have a large complex around their rink.
This is almost the easiest part of getting teams back on the ice. Getting teams together, getting finances ready, officials, hotels, broadcasting set ups, it’s all really complicated and if anyone is on the ice before mid-April, I’ll be surprised.
Elsewhere in the news sphere.
The 2021 Buffalo Sabres have now been shut out as often as they’ve won.— Brendan Keany (@BrendanKeany) March 16, 2021
If you have a solid lunch break to take today:
Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas will hold a mid-season media availability at noon Tuesday.— Joshua Clipperton (@JClipperton_CP) March 15, 2021
It will either be nothing or “These dummies blew their chance at adding at the trade deadline once again” or “Hey we traded for every UFA on the Sabres for pennies on the dollar”.
Hardev took a look back on the newest Marlies goalie:
The Montreal Canadiens lost a defender, which is just the worst, aw shucks.
Okay folks, let’s wildly speculate about what Kyle’s press conference will be about.
Enjoy your day!