Nova Scotia

Maritime teams hoping to have fans in stands for upcoming QMJHL season

The president of the Cape Breton Eagles says the upcoming hockey season will have a much different look than in years past.

'We are very excited to get hockey back,' says Cape Breton Eagles president Gerard Shaw

Félix Lafrance celebrates with his teammates after scoring a goal for the Cape Breton Eagles last season. (Mike Sullivan)

The president of the Cape Breton Eagles says the upcoming hockey season will have a much different look than in years past.

"Logistically, it's extraordinarily challenging right now to be quite honest, but we are very excited to get hockey back," said Cape Breton Eagles president Gerard Shaw.

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is starting its season Oct. 1.

There will be no fans permitted into arenas for all games played in Quebec, where there are still more than 1,500 active cases of COVID-19.

Maritime teams are working to have fans in place, but the number allowed will be drastically reduced and will vary in each of the three provinces. Due to physical distancing requirements, Shaw said the Eagles will only be allowed to have 800 fans for games at Centre 200, unless the Nova Scotia government changes its guidelines.

Justin Barron and the Halifax Mooseheads will begin the QMJHL season at the beginning of October. (David Chan/Halifax Mooseheads)

"We think we can maybe make some changes within the building that might be able to bring that number up a bit, while staying within the rules and regulations set out by [Chief Medical Officer of Health] Dr. [Robert] Strang's office," said Shaw.

"We'd like to be able to get our season ticket holder base in the building, that's what we'd like to be able to do."

Teams will play a 60-game season — shorter than the usual 68 games — and there will be three divisions. All regular season games will be played within six-team divisions to restrict travel. The Maritimes division will not change as the Halifax Mooseheads, Cape Breton Eagles, Moncton Wildcats, Saint John Sea Dogs, Acadie-Bathurst Titan and Charlottetown Islanders will be playing games only against each other.

With fewer fans going to games, it could be a very tough year financially for teams who will likely be forced to lean on sponsors even more this season.

Training camps will be allowed to open on Aug. 30, but will have far fewer players, with a maximum of 34 players permitted to take part.

"We actually already have players in Sydney as we speak," said Shaw. "We had to bring in 10 players for quarantine based on provincial rules and they're here now."

'A lot of ongoing work to do,' says league commissioner

League executives say they have been in constant contact with provincial governments and public health agencies throughout the Maritimes and Quebec.

"Our return-to-play protocol has been very well received by public health in all four provinces," said QMJHL commissioner Gilles Courteau. "But we still have a lot of ongoing work to do."

The Western Hockey League and Ontario Hockey League previously announced they would delay the start of their seasons until December, much later than their traditional September start dates.

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's playoff format will be announced later in December.

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