Memo? What memo?
If the Ontario Hockey League distributed a return-to-play memo detailing a 24-game schedule to be played in four hub cities and featuring all 20 teams, Attack GM Dale DeGray went un-CC’d.
“I’m going to honest with you, I don’t know what memos you’re talking about. I can’t respond to any of that because I don’t know anything about the memos,” DeGray said. “I’ve never seen a memo. I’ve never heard about a memo. People are calling me asking about these memos. I would like to know where these people are getting these memos.”
For its part, the OHL distributed a statement Thursday pumping the brakes on news of a potential return-to-play scenario first reported by The Athletic.
The OHL said it’s been encouraged by ongoing discussions with the government and public health officials but has not yet approved a return-to-play framework for the upcoming season.
Whether there are memos or not, the general questions remain unanswered, will there be an OHL season? A Memorial Cup?
DeGray, who said he’s been holed up in his Oshawa home during the pandemic, has had a lot of time to think about the possibilities.
He recites the calculus, but first a hedge.
“This is no exact science or anybody’s knowledge other than me looking at it,” he said. “I don’t want people running with this.”
There’s a built-in “buffer” time period to puck drop because of quarantine protocols.
Seven of the Attack’s players are currently plying their trade in Europe while the OHL is stalled. They’ll need to quarantine for 14 days upon their return to Canada.
DeGray said the league hasn’t told him to instruct anybody to head home just yet.
He also said imports Stepan Machacek and Noah Delemont have told him they’re staying in Europe for the season.
That leaves Igor Chibrikov, Andrew Perrott, Carter Robertson, Josh Samanski and Mark Woolley across the pond.
Then, allowing for a two-week training camp, there is at least a month of lag built into any decision to drop the puck.
“So when can you start to play? April into May and then June? The Memorial Cup in June?” DeGray rolls on. “So let’s say you play 20 games, maybe it’s 18 games, I don’t know what that number would be, there are so many variables that come into play where it would be such a moving target it’s difficult.”
So let’s call it 20 games. For now, for fun.
“You can play three games a week for sure, that’s seven weeks. It could be six weeks. Six weeks you get that part of the season in. You have a shortened playoff, maybe it’s four teams (per conference) – this is how I’ve played it out in my head – four teams the first round is three (games), second round is three, championship round is five and you send somebody to the Memorial Cup.”
OK, good. Now the variables. Where do they play? The Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre is earmarked for a herculean vaccination effort. Ice is out of the buildings in some places in the province. Hub cities?
What COVID-19 protocols will the government and public health officials insist on? The NHL and AHL have been allowed to host home games in Ontario, but with stringent health protocols. Does the OHL have the capacity to enact similar measures?
Who is paying for all of this? It costs money to play elite hockey, and it’s almost a certainty fans won’t be allowed in the stands.
The questions, which have been the same questions since last August, seem overwhelming in mid-February.
So, what’s the point? The federal government has said anyone who wants a vaccine in this country should be able to get one by September. Just in time for the 2021-22 OHL season.
When does it simply become fruitless to try and salvage a shortened season?
“I wish I had that answer,” DeGray said.
DeGray said he’s talked about that very scenario with the coaching staff. Preparing for the next, next year.
But he also wants to fight for this season for the players, and all the young athletes who haven’t been able to compete in their sport for almost a year.
“You think about the mental make-up of these kids. And what’s going to happen in the spring with baseball? What happens with soccer?” DeGray asked. “There are a lot of active kids in Ontario. We have to look at it like these young kids are trying to be active and want to active for their benefit and that’s what it’s about.”