The Ontario Hockey League has officially cancelled the 2020-21 season, quashing any hopes it could at least salvage a shortened season.
The league informed teams Tuesday morning before making the announcement official later the same day, saying that the current stay-at-home order would make a season impossible.
“We owe it to our players and their families to be definitive. We were committed to return and play this season, but our hopes and desires have been dashed by the cruel realities of COVID-19,” said OHL Commissioner David Branch.
“We have worked tirelessly with the province and the chief medical officer of health for the past year on different scenarios and different windows of opportunity but the reality is the conditions in Ontario have never been right to start and complete an uninterrupted, safe opportunity for players to showcase their skills.”
Sports Minister Lisa MacLeod said earlier this month that the province was close to approving the OHL’s plan to return to play in late March when the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic began in earnest in Ontario.
She said that although she had been hopeful that there would be an OHL season in 2021, there was no way to justify the league returning, given how quickly variants of concern can spread.
“We just really need to be very mindful of these young athletes and their long-term health,” MacLeod said.
A statement from the league Tuesday morning backs up those comments, saying that COVID-19 conditions worsened in Ontario on the eve of an announcement that would have made the OHL’s Return To Play plan public.
The plan envisioned a shortened season to be played in hub cities following the most rigorous COVID-19 containment protocols possible.
“Ontario has the strongest health restrictions of any jurisdiction in North America and we understood that this would make a return-to-play scenario extremely difficult,” said Branch, while recognizing the openness of the provincial government, including MacLeod and Premier Doug Ford, during return-to-play discussions.
“We all agree that providing certainty for our players and families, even if it is not the answer they would want to hear, is the right thing for everyone’s health and safety and for the mental health challenges faced by many of our young players.”
On Monday the Western Hockey League announced it would not be holding playoffs at the conclusion of the 24-game regular season, saying cross border and international travel would be too difficult to navigate amid the pandemic.
The announcement comes a week after the Canadian Hockey League, the umbrella organization for the WHL, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Ontario Hockey League, cancelled the 2021 Memorial Cup major junior championship due to COVID-19.
The QMJHL is attempting to go ahead with a modified playoff format.
The OHL, which has 17 teams based in Ontario and three others that play out of the USA, has been shelved since mid-March of last year, when it cancelled the remaining 56 games of the 2019-20 regular season due to the pandemic.