Junior hockey is back – and hoping for a normal season

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A quick note before we start: No newsletter tomorrow as we observe the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Back Friday.

Junior hockey finally returns to normal

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, it seemed like a potentially devastating event for the NHL. But the league rebounded pretty quickly, all things considered, coming back from a 4½ month hiatus to complete a full Stanley Cup playoff tournament by the end of September. The late ending resulted in a shortened 2021 season, but that didn’t really impact the subsequent playoffs either, other than pushing them back a few weeks. As for the millions in revenue missed along the way, owners seem well on their way to recouping much of it by slapping ads on helmets, jerseys, and seemingly any other real estate your eyeballs might to fall. Of course, these new “sources of revenue” are eroding the aesthetics of the sport and we’re probably about 18 months away from seeing a Škoda parked in the stands of every arena. But, hey, at least we weren’t deprived of playoff games.

This is not the case in junior hockey. The pandemic wiped out the 2020 playoffs for all three major-junior loops under the Canadian Hockey League umbrella, and nearly cost them their 2020-21 seasons as well. The Ontario Hockey League, in fact, never let go of the puck. The Western Hockey League limped through a schedule of just 24 divisional games before canceling its playoffs again. The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League turned a blind eye and weathered a turbulent regular season marred by outbreaks, quarantines and shutdowns that saw teams playing between 26 and 43 games. The Q managed to make the playoffs and even crown a champion (Victoriaville) in early June. But that was it. The Memorial Cup tournament — the jewel in the crown of junior hockey — has been canceled for the second straight year, leaving the CHL without an overall champion since the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL won it in May 2019.

Junior hockey hopes to return to normal starting Thursday night, when the QMJHL drops the puck on what it expects will be a full 68-game season for each team. The WHL will try to do the same starting Friday night, although there is no interconference game this season. Additionally, BC and USA Division teams will be restricted to intra-division play for the first month, as bus travel is still not permitted across the Canada-US border. It’s a similar deal in the OHL, which opens its own 68-game season Oct. 7. The three US-based teams will only play until at least the end of October, and everyone else will play primarily within their own conference. Each league ends its regular season the first week of April and expects a full playoff tournament to follow. The Memorial Cup is scheduled to begin June 3 in Saint John.

Will everything go as planned? Who knows. But the WHL, OHL and QMJHL have given themselves a better chance by mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for players, coaches, staff and other team personnel. Each league also aims to return to full capacity crowds at some point, but that will depend on the myriad of health departments and governments they play in. The OHL has teams in Ontario, Pennsylvania and Michigan. The WHL covers British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Oregon and Washington State. The QMJHL does not cross the border, but it is present in four different provinces: Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI.

If things go well enough, we should finally get a good look at super prospect Shane Wright. The potential first pick in the 2022 NHL Draft plays for the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs, whose last significant game was nearly 19 months ago. Wright was just 15 at the start of the 2019-20 season, but he scored big numbers: 39 goals in 58 games and, as Sportsnet’s Mike Shulman points out in this story, more points per game than Connor McDavid. did register as an OHL rookie at the same age. Wright also dominated the world under-18 championships last season, scoring nine goals in five games to lead Canada to gold. Wright was cut from Canada’s world junior team last year at age 16, but is expected to be one of the stars at the next tournament in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta.

Another guy to watch is Connor Bedard of the WHL’s Regina Pats. He tied Wright with 14 points at the U-18 world championships and had 28 points (including 12 goals) in 15 games with Regina last season. The 16-year-old is not eligible for the NHL Draft until 2023.

Learn more about some of the rising stars hoping to make their mark as the CHL returns to normal in this story from CBC Sports’ Myles Dichter. Learn more about the players and teams to watch in the video below with CBC Sports’ Rob Pizzo and CHL Player-Per-Game Victor Findlay. And, if you haven’t heard, six CHL games will be broadcast live on CBC Television this season — starting with Saturday’s game between the Prince Albert Raiders and Bedard’s Regina Pats at 3 p.m. a.m. ET / 1 p.m. CT. Games can also be streamed for free on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and the CBC Gem streaming service. See the full slate here.

Previewing the CHL season has never been harder

The three CHL leagues have had very different “COVID seasons,” which makes this campaign very difficult to predict. 9:47

Quickly…

Andrew Wiggins and Kyrie Irving’s vaccine hesitancy could cost them dearly. The NBA today announced that players who miss games due to new mandates in New York and San Francisco requiring professional athletes to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to play indoors will not be paid for those games. matches. League politics could mean a lot of lost dollars for Irving and the Canadian Wiggins, who play for Brooklyn and Golden State respectively, and have made it known they oppose getting vaccinated. Based on his salary of around US$35 million in 2021-22, Irving makes around $427,000 per game. Wiggins, who somehow earns close to $32 million this season, is paid around $385,000 per game. Read more about his anti-vaccine stance in this article by CBC Sports contributor Morgan Campbell.

The Beijing Olympics are also putting pressure on unvaccinated athletes. They will have to spend 21 days in quarantine before the Games as part of the organizers’ plan to stage “a safe and successful Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games as planned”, the International Olympic Committee said today. As at this summer’s Games in Tokyo, no foreign fans will be allowed to attend the events. But the current plan is to allow fully vaccinated spectators who live in mainland China. Read more about the policies revealed today here.

The Blue Jays have fallen to fourth place in the American League wild card race. Last night’s 7-2 loss to the Yankees in Game 1 of a critical series left Toronto three games behind New York for the top wild card. The Jays are still a game behind Boston for second and final place after the Red Sox’ loss to ugly Baltimore. But Seattle, despite a minus 50 point differential (217 points less than Toronto!) is now half a game ahead of the Jays after earning its third straight win. Toronto will look to bounce back tonight at 7 p.m. ET as Jose Berrios takes the mound against Yanks ace Gerrit Cole.

Manny Pacquiao has retired. Boxing retreats should always be taken with a grain of salt, but this one might actually stick. Pacquiao is 42, suffered a deflating loss last month in his first fight in two years, has a side gig as a senator in the Philippines and plans to run for president next year. Pacquiao will go down as one of the best and most beloved fighters in history, with a classic rags-to-riches story that saw him rise from extreme poverty to win titles in a record eight categories. of different weights. He delighted fans with spectacular knockouts fueled by his blistering speed and unorthodox striking angles. Pacquiao’s memorable fights include his superstar TKO of Oscar De La Hoya in 2008, his four matchups with rival Juan Manuel Marquez and his 2015 megabout against Floyd Mayweather Jr., which came a few years too late to measure up. hype and ended in a decision loss for Pacquiao but still netted both fighters a fortune. Learn more about Pacquiao’s career here.

You are aware. Are you talking Friday.


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