Hockey

WHL postpones Jan. 8 start to season amid COVID-19 uncertainty

The Western Hockey League is pushing back the start of its season indefinitely due to uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic.

League board meeting next month to determine next steps for 2020-21 campaign

Vladislav Yeryomenko of the Calgary Hitmen, centre, carries the puck past Josh Paterson of the Saskatoon Blades during a 2018 WHL game. On Tuesday, the junior hockey league announced it was postponing its scheduled Jan. 8 start to the season. (Derek Leung/Getty Images)

The Western Hockey League is pushing back the start of its season indefinitely due to uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic.

The league announced the news in a statement Tuesday, saying it is not in a position to start the season as planned on Jan. 8 due to current public health restrictions across Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest U.S.

The WHL is comprised of 22 teams spanning four provinces and two states, and the league says it has been working with the various health authorities to create protocols necessary for protecting players, staff, officials and fans during the pandemic.

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League was the only one of the three Canadian major junior leagues to open play around its normal start date, beginning its season in October.

COVID-19 outbreaks among several teams forced the QMJHL to postpone games and public health restrictions saw the league create a "bubble" in Quebec City before the league put the season on hold at the end of November.

The Ontario Hockey League plans to begin its season in early February.

The WHL's board of governors will meet in January to discuss potential start dates for the 2020-21 season.

"We continue to make every effort to get our season started, but our first priority has always been the health and safety of our players, and everyone associated with the WHL," league commissioner Ron Robinson said in a statement.

"Given the public health restrictions that are currently in effect, we are not in a position to determine a new target date for our season. We will continue to consult with health authorities to determine when it is safe and responsible to get our season started."

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