Western Hockey League to host East Division hub in Regina
REGINA -- The Western Hockey League announced it has been granted approval by Saskatchewan public health officials to host a hockey hub in Regina.
The league’s seven Saskatchewan and Manitoba teams – which make up the East Division – will open their 24-game regular season in the Queen City on Friday, Mar. 12.
In a press release, the WHL said it has agreed to play all East Division games during the 2020-21 regular season at the Brandt Centre, under an approved WHL Hub Center model. Practices will take place at the Co-operators Centre.
According to the league, it has developed an “extensive” set of safety protocols to protect players, staff and the community.
WHL players and staff from East Division clubs will start self-quarantining on Feb. 20. They will report to the WHL Hub Center in Regina on Feb. 27, where they will undergo COVID-19 testing when they arrive, then enter into an additional quarantine period. Players and staff will be tested a second time before they are permitted to engage in any team activity.
Speaking to the media Friday, Moose Jaw Warriors general manager Alan Millar said once the players and staff pass the various quarantine and isolation periods, the team will have about a week on the ice to train and get acclimatized to the hub format before the puck drops.
“Hopefully negative tests across the board, we’ll get on the ice and have essentially seven, eight days to train, get on the ice, prepare for the first games on Mar. 12,” Millar said.
Many of the specific details about the hub process are still being worked out, however, Millar confirmed that the players will be housed in dorms at the University of Regina and Luther College.
“We’re going to have a number of calls next week with the league, with the other six teams in the division, to get a lot of those details about our accommodations, meal plans, our setup in the Brandt centre, practice times, schedule, all those things,” Millar said.
The WHL said clubs have committed to a weekly private PCR testing strategy, so no additional strain will be placed on the province’s health system. If a team has one or more players or staff test positive for the virus at any time, it will be required to suspend its activities for a minimum of two weeks.
Daily screening for WHL players, staff and officials will include temperature checks and symptom monitoring through an app. Masks must be worn by all players at all times, except during games and practices. Coaches will also be required to wear masks at all times, including during practices and while behind the bench.
No fans will be allowed. The WHL said it will soon announce a new live-streaming service, so fans can watch games at home.
Despite the hub being a completely new competition format for the teams, Moose Jaw head coach Mark O’Leary said he expects his players will adapt quickly to the hub format.
“I think that’s true with teenage kids, I think we’ve seen many times before they can adapt to whatever positions they’re put in,” O’Leary said. “[The excitement] it’s times 10 for them right now, being away from competing for so long, I think there’s going to be a whole lot of excitement and enthusiasm.”
The Warriors GM added that he hopes this quarantine process is smoother than the one he experienced two months ago, as the general manager of Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships.
“The World Juniors experience, we had our ups and downs and spent more time in isolation than we would have liked to. We’re certainly hoping to avoid that, with us going into the hub in Regina,” Millar said.
THE BRANDT CENTRE
Evraz Place said it is pleased to be selected as the host site for WHL’s East Division hub centre.
"The Brandt Centre has had the ice out of it for a while now because it hasn’t been used, so this is an opportunity to bring the Brandt Centre back to life," Tim Reid, President and CEO of Evraz Place, said.
The seven teams will use the Brandt Centre for games and practices, while the Cooperators Centre will remain open to the general public.
The WHL teams will have the opportunity to rent ice at the Cooperators Centre if needed, but will be required to follow the public health measures limited to eight players on the ice at a time.
Reid said the Brandt Centre is a great set up for the bubble that the league is looking for.
"It’s a great venue to really limit the interactions and frankly be COVID-19 safety requirements compliant," he said. "The fact that our health authority has supported it, the fact that we had a building that’s dark that we can now bring to life, all around, it’s a good statement."