Queen's Park giving OHL $2.35M, for starters, as return-to-play looms

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The Ontario Hockey League likely won’t start until mid-April at the earliest, but a majority of its teams will be able to pay off some of their post-secondary school bills.

Lisa MacLeod, the province’s minister of heritage, sport, tourism and culture industries, announced Wednesday that $2.35 million is heading the OHL’s way to cover some of its scholarship costs.

The league’s 17 Ontario-based clubs will each get $138,000.

MacLeod is optimistic that a return-to-play plan for at least a 20-game season will be approved by the province’s chief public health official, Dr. David Williams, by month’s end. She indicated more financial aid could be on the way once that happens.

“My hope and aspiration is to get it done,” she said. “We know how important the OHL is as a feeder to the NHL, the AHL and other professional leagues around the world.”

There is still a lot of work to be done. Right now, physical contact outside of professional sports is prohibited, so body checking is not a certainty.

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Spectators aren’t going to be allowed for the foreseeable future and rigorous testing and sanitation standards must be met.

“We’ve been quite successful at the NHL and AHL level at preventing the spread of COVID-19,” MacLeod said. “We want to make sure once we sign off on that return to play, the integrity of the bubble (sites) will prevent the spread or any of the variants of concern.

“My concern is I don’t want an athlete to go into a bubble that’s infected, create a super-spreader event and then have the next Olympian or NHL superstar sidelined, probably permanently, because of a respiratory disease.”

MacLeod said she spoke to OHL commissioner David Branch on March 16, but has not been approached about the possibility of holding a Memorial Cup tournament this year in Oshawa or Sault Ste. Marie.

According to an OHL news release, during the 2019-20 academic year there were 334 OHL graduates accessing their scholarship at a cost to OHL member teams of $3.125 million. Of these 334 graduates, 200 were included on U SPORTS men’s hockey rosters. In addition, current OHL players accessed a total of $475,000 in member team scholarship contributions.

The OHL and its member teams continued to honour scholarship commitments to all players throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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