The Ontario Hockey League (OHL) is set to return Feb. 4, however, what the on-ice product will look like amidst a pandemic remains unclear.
Confusion surrounding whether the season will begin with or without contact is spreading.
Lisa MacLeod, Ontario’s minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries, has given a firm ‘no’ when it comes to the contact rule.
On several occasions she has stated bodychecking will not be allowed due to the close contact between players amidst a pandemic.
However, and this is where the confusion stems, Premier Doug Ford insists a final decision has not yet been made regarding the rule, and that he wishes to see the game return with contact.
The differing of opinions leaves one wondering ‘well, which one is it, and who has the final say’?
According to MacLeod, she is still working with the OHL to accommodate a return-to-play plan, but that the no-contact rule is not up for negotiation.
According to a spokesperson for the Oshawa Generals, the league has placed an embargo on any talks regarding the no-contact rule at this time.
In an interview conducted Nov. 3, before the embargo, Roger Hunt, vice-president and general manager of the Generals said, “we’re training and preparing these players for the NHL. With our practice schedule, with our game schedule, with our style of play, with our buildings, with everything that really goes with it, we’re preparing players to take that next step.”
Regarding the no-contact rule he added, “there’s contact, there’s collision, typically one party goes one way, one goes the other, so I don’t know if that would be the rule I would target.”
The potential change in on-ice play may lead players to take their skill development elsewhere.
Hunt said there is potential for players to leave and to be loaned to European teams, where contact is still allowed, but believes the players would rather stick to the path they chose.
“These kids all want to play in the OHL. They made a decision at one point in their hockey or family life that, ‘hey this is the route we’re going to go’ and I think our players have shown a great deal of stick-to-it-iveness, if you will,” he said.
The no-contact rule also throws a wrench into the Memorial Cup, as teams from the Western Hockey League (WHL) and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) will have played their season with contact leading to the cup.
A decision will have to be made determining if the tournament, which includes the champions of the WHL, QMJHL, and OHL, as well as the team from the tournament’s host city (of which Oshawa has entered a bid to host), will be played with or without the contact rule.
The Chronicle reached out to Minister MacLeod for comment but did not receive a response before deadline.
It is unclear when a final decision will be made.