The Ontario Hockey League announced on Tuesday that the OHL will not be coming back this year. We have not seen a game since March 11th 2020 when the Soo Greyhounds played the Flint Firebirds and won the game 4-1. Nick Malik was the first star of the game making 31 out of 32 saves for the win. Who could ever imagine this would be the last Hounds game we would see in over a year. The last time in over a year we would get the chance to cheer on our Greyhounds with our family and friends.
The OHL and the Provincial government had been working on a return to play plan for months. Having countless meetings, and coming up with multiple different strategies to try and make this work. Unfortunately they were just not able to get the job done and get these players back on the ice. OHL Commissioner David Branch said, “We owe it to our players and their families to be definitive. We were committed to return and play this season, but our hopes and desires have been dashed by the cruel realities of COVID-19.”
The OHL wanted to get their players on the ice but under the right conditions. When the OHL tried to come back in early October the issue was body contact. Lisa MacLeod, Minister of Heritage, Sport, and Tourism told reporters. “It would be safe to say that body contact, unless it’s incremental, will not be permitted as a result of COVID-19,” This was a major setback when it came to the OHL getting back on the ice. Hockey is a contact sport. Trying to have any form of competitive and professional hockey without contact is just something that I didn’t see happening.
Now let’s fast forward to last week. Lisa Macleod was making an announcement regarding tourism. During the question and answer section SaultOnline asked her about where we sit on a return to play plan for the Ontario Hockey League. She said “ it would be irresponsible to approve a return to play for the OHL at the moment”. She also spoke about how the government and the OHL were very close to having a plan all worked out before the 3rd wave of COVID-19 caused another stay at home order. One week later the OHL announced that the season would indeed be canceled.
With the 2021 season being canceled this really affects a lot of people. The players would be the first people that come to mind. In the 2019 draft the Dallas Stars selected Thomas Harley, a defenseman who played in Mississauga Ontario. He was one of 4 players to get drafted into the NHL in the first round and make his dream become a reality. This year no player from the OHL even cracked the top 50 players to be drafted into the NHL. The OHL normally brings in 20 % of the players drafted into the NHL.
The OHL’s season being cancelled does hurt more than just the players however. The league supports 327 full-time jobs, 831 part-time jobs, 176 students with work on internships or co-op terms, and 1,100 volunteer positions. These are jobs that will need to be filled elsewhere.
At the end of the day this is really sad for the OHL players, fans and staff. Let’s hope by 2022 we can put this all behind us and go back to some form of normalcy. When families can go to a hockey game for a great time, cities can once again cheer on their home team and enjoy the great sport of hockey.