After months of waiting, the Swift Current Broncos finally have a realistic start date for a shortened 2020-21 season.
The Western Hockey League announced on Friday that the five Saskatchewan teams and two Manitoba teams will play in a ‘WHL Hub Center’ in Regina, beginning on March 12, one year and one day since the Broncos last game. The Broncos last game of the 2019-20 season was March 11, 2020 against the visiting Red Deer Rebels before their final five games of the regular season were postponed.
The Manitoba-based Winnipeg Ice and Brandon Wheat Kings will join the Regina Pats, Saskatoon Blades, Moose Jaw Warriors, Prince Albert Raiders, and Broncos for a 24-game season in Regina with games at the Brandt Centre and practices at the adjacent Co-operators Centre. No spectators will be allowed to enter WHL facilities during East Division activities.
“The WHL appreciates the cooperation we have received from both the Governments of Saskatchewan and Manitoba as we work towards a safe return to play in the East Division,” commented WHL Commissioner Ron Robison. “With our extensive protocols and the necessary approvals now in place, we are looking forward to play getting underway in Regina and allowing our players to continue their development at the highest level in the Canadian system.”
WHL players and staff from Saskatchewan and Manitoba based Clubs will begin self-quarantining on February 20 and then will report to the WHL Hub Center in Regina on February 27, where they will be required to undergo COVID-19 testing upon arrival followed by an additional quarantine period. Players and staff will then undergo a second COVID-19 test before being permitted to engage in any team activity.
WHL Clubs are also committed to providing private PCR testing through DynaLIFE Medical Labs, to ensure no additional strain is placed on public health. Players will be tested upon arrival to their WHL Club and once again before engaging in any team activity. DynaLIFE’s PCR testing is considered a gold standard for COVID-19 testing, and was utilized in Edmonton during the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs and the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship.
The WHL will implement an ongoing weekly private PCR testing strategy. If a WHL Club has one or more players or staff test positive for COVID-19 at any point in the season, the Club will be required to suspend its Club activities for a minimum of 14 days.
Enhanced screening for all WHL players, team staff and officials will also take place on a daily basis, including regular temperature screenings as well as symptom monitoring through the WHL Athlete RMS Mobile Application. Masks must be worn by all WHL players at all times with the exception of when participating on ice for games and practices. WHL coaches will be required to wear masks at all times, including while conducting practice and while behind the bench during games.
The WHL had previously announced that the Alberta-based teams had been granted approval to return to play with a starting date of February 26. The Central Division schedule will consist of home-and-home series on weekends only as the protocols require a maximum of one opponent per week and a five-day break in between opponents.
The WHL also announced last Friday that the U.S. Division teams would open their regular season on March 19. No return to play date has been set for the B.C. Division.