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WHL pushes tentative 2020-21 season start date to December as COVID-19 continues

Prince George Cougars' fans, at this point, have to wait two extra months

The Prince George Cougars have a new tentative start date for its 2020-21 season.

The Western Hockey League (WHL) announced today (Aug. 6) its now looking to drop the puck on Dec. 4, two months later than its initial Oct. 2 start, in hopes all six of its health jurisdictions are able to stickhandle through the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the league says regardless of when the new year begins, a full 68-game regular-season and four playoff rounds will be scheduled.

“In our discussions with the government and health authorities, it has become apparent that additional time is required to ensure we can return to play in a safe and responsible manner," said WHL Commissioner Ron Robison in a statement.

"Our WHL health and safety protocols have been well received by the health authorities but we have several key issues that we will need to reach a resolution on in the coming months.”

On July 27, the City of Prince George decided to close the CN Centre for the rest of the year in order to help offset its projected $3-million budget shortfall for 2020.

However, the arena could be subject to reopening if B.C. moves into Phase Four or a modified version of Phase Three of its COVID-19 restart plan in the months ahead.

Cougars' Vice-President of Business Andy Beesley said in an earlier interview with PrinceGeorgeMatters that businesses and fans would be naive to have thought Oct. 2 was the only tentative start date on the WHL's agenda.

“Everybody is in good spirits; just need to wait and see what this pandemic holds in the future,” he explained.

“In fact, we have a whole different variety of schedules, so if we have to start a little bit later or if the season had to be modified somehow, we’ll be prepared.”

Regular-season play normally begins in September for the 22-team league.

The Ontario Hockey League, part of the Canadian Hockey League with the WHL and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, announced Wednesday (Aug. 5) it is planning for a 64-game regular season beginning Dec. 1.

The 2021 CHL-championship Memorial Cup tournament is to be hosted by the OHL from June 17-27 at either Oshawa or Sault Ste. Marie.

The 2020 Memorial Cup, scheduled for May in Kelowna, was cancelled due to the pandemic.

The new season, if given the green light, would begin a day after the Prince George Spruce Kings' and BC Hockey League's Dec. 1 tentative start date.

For now, the Cougars must wait on a decision in the next few weeks and returning to play won’t be possible without the approval of the WHL, the Province of B.C. and the other five regional health jurisdictions in western Canada.

- with files from Cleve Dheensaw, Times Colonist