Kitchener Rangers coach 'cautiously optimistic' OHL season puck drop will be Dec. 1
'Hopefully when that date arrives we are playing hockey,' Mike McKenzie says
Kitchener Rangers fans: Mark your calendars. The Ontario Hockey League says it anticipates returning to the ice on Dec. 1.
In an announcement on Wednesday, the league says that return date is subject to ensuring "players, fans, staff and community are able to play and attend games safely."
Gameplay in the OHL was suspended in March, following the outbreak of COVID-19.
The preseason for the OHL would normally begin at the end of August or early September with players arriving in their respective towns before that for training.
In a statement, OHL commissioner David Branch said players will remain at home until the start of the season while teams oversee their on and off-ice development.
"In addition, the league will liaise with our facilities to ensure that our venues are safe for our return to play," Branch said.
The OHL season will have 64 games and a 16-team playoff format. The regular season is scheduled to end on April 29, 2021.
The 102nd Memorial Cup is scheduled for June 17 to 27, 2021 in either Oshawa or Sault Ste. Marie.
Extra time will benefit players
Rangers general manager and head coach Mike McKenzie said the team told players on Tuesday.
"I think everyone understands right now, with what we're dealing with in the world, nothing's for certain, but for planning purposes and clarity, it's nice for the players to circle a date on their calendar and our staff as well," he said. "It is nice, from a planning purpose, to kind of get that date and hopefully when that date arrives we are playing hockey. But we'll see."
McKenzie says the extra time at home is a good chance for players to work on themselves.
"This might be the only time in their hockey career ever that they have a six, seven, eight-month window where you're not playing games and not putting your body through the grind of a season and you can really almost use a full year to get stronger and work on your game," he said.
"I know they all want to play games probably because that's the fun part but I think there's definitely a lot of benefits to the guys with the right mindset are going to take advantage of."
McKenzie says he doesn't think the late start will hurt any player's NHL prospects, since everyone across the country is in the same situation. Even the NHL only just recently returned to the ice to finish out the season, he pointed out.
McKenzie said he has heard from fans, some who are excited and some who are hesitant to get too excited. He considers himself "cautiously optimistic."
"It would be awesome if we could start on Dec. 1, but I think everyone is in the same boat in feeling it needs to be a safe environment for everyone involved," he said.
"That's the main priority right now is getting back to safe environments in all aspects in life and the same goes for junior hockey."