The Western Hockey League (WHL) announced Friday it has been granted approval by public health officials from the Government of Saskatchewan to play in a hub centre located in Regina, which will allow the WHL’s Saskatchewan and Manitoba-based teams in the East Division to open their season on March 12.
“The WHL appreciates the cooperation we have received from both the Governments of Saskatchewan and Manitoba as we work towards a safe return to play in the East Division,” commented WHL commissioner Ron Robison. “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.”
Seven WHL clubs, which operate in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, will form the East Division, including the Moose Jaw Warriors, Prince Albert Raiders, Regina Pats, Saskatoon Blades, Swift Current Broncos, Brandon Wheat Kings and Winnipeg Ice.
The WHL has agreed that all East Division games during the 2020-21 regular season will be played exclusively at the Brandt Centre in Regina, under an approved WHL hub centre model.
The WHL’s East Division will play a 24-game schedule, which will be announced at a later date. Based on the approved WHL protocols, the schedule will be played exclusively at the Brandt Centre in Regina with practices conducted in the adjacent Co-operators Centre.
The WHL has developed an extensive set of protocols and believe the protective hub environment will provide a high standard of safety, for not only players and staff, but the Regina community at large. WHL players and staff from Saskatchewan and Manitoba-based clubs will begin self-quarantining on Feb. 20 and then will report to the hub centre in Regina on Feb. 27, where they will be required to undergo COVID-19 testing upon arrival followed by an additional quarantine period. Players and staff will then undergo a second COVID-19 test before being permitted to engage in any team activity.
WHL clubs are also committed to providing private PCR testing through DynaLIFE Medical Labs, to ensure no additional strain is placed on public health. Players will be tested upon arrival to their WHL club and once again before engaging in any team activity. DynaLIFE’s PCR testing is considered a gold standard for COVID-19 testing, and was utilized in Edmonton during the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs and the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship.
The WHL will implement an ongoing weekly private PCR testing strategy. If a WHL club has one or more players or staff test positive for COVID-19 at any point in the season, the club will be required to suspend its club activities for a minimum of 14 days.
Enhanced screening for all WHL players, team staff and officials will also take place on a daily basis, including regular temperature screenings as well as symptom monitoring through the WHL Athlete RMS Mobile Application. Masks must be worn by all WHL players at all times with the exception of when participating on ice for games and practices. WHL coaches will be required to wear masks at all times, including while conducting practice and while behind the bench during games.
As the WHL returns to play in the East Division, no spectators will be permitted to enter WHL facilities. WHL fans can look forward to the launch of a brand-new live streaming service that will deliver the excitement of WHL hockey straight to their homes. Details on the new WHL Live will be announced soon.
With the East Division start date now confirmed for March 12, the WHL will have three Divisions ready to open the regular season, starting with the Central Division on Feb. 26 and the U.S. Division on March 19. The WHL continues to work with government health authorities in British Columbia to establish a start date for the WHL’s B.C. Division. Approval from the health authority in B.C. is required for the WHL’s B.C. Division to return to play.