QMJHL announces Oct. 1 start date for 2020-21 campaign

While the Ontario Hockey League and the Western Hockey League have pushed back the start of their upcoming seasons until December at the earliest, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is hoping to get things rolling this fall.

In an announcement that had been rumoured for nearly two months, the QMJHL revealed on Friday afternoon that they are planning their return to play for Thursday, Oct. 1.

“Since the 2019-2020 season and the President Cup playoffs were cancelled last March, the Commissioner’s office has been preparing a sustainable return to play protocol to ensure a safe environment for players, team staffs, fans and its communities,” the league said in a prepared statement. “Over the past several weeks, the league has had continued dialogue with government officials and Public Health Agencies of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Quebec to propose a plan in line with Public Health directives and guidelines.

“In order to begin the season on Oct. 1, with training camps and return to school deadlines coming up at end of August, the league had to decide on whether or not to start the 2020-2021 season. The League’s mission is to develop players both academically and athletically while providing the safest possible environment. In view of the urgency of the situation and in line with our mission, the members voted in favour of returning to play on Oct. 1.”

Unlike the OHL and the WHL, who have said that they won’t play until fans are allowed back in the stands, the QMJHL has announced that all games in Quebec will be played behind closed doors.

Details are still being finalized for the six Maritimes based teams (the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, Cape Breton Eagles, Charlottetown Islanders, Halifax Mooseheads, Moncton Wildcats and Saint John Sea Dogs) and if they will be allowed to have fans in their arenas.

Training camps for all 18 teams in the league on Aug. 30 and will be limited to 34 invitees.

The regular season will be cut down from 68 games to 60 and feature division only play.

The WHL is still committed to playing a 68-game schedule, while the OHL has cut back their amount of games from 68 down to 64,

The league format will be different as well as the QMJHL will go back to three six-teams divisions instead of a four-division format that has been used over the last two campaigns.

The 2021 playoff format is expected to be announced in December, with the league going to the Memorial Cup in either Oshawa or Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. next June.

OHL commissioner David Branch said in an interview with Brad Coccimiglio of Soo Today last week that the league plans to announced details on the 2021 Memorial Cup selection process in the coming weeks.

The Oshawa Generals and the Soo Greyhounds had both announced in February that they were bidding for the event.

Both organizations were to make in-person presentations in April with the successful bid being announced prior to the 2020 Memorial Cup in Kelowna, B.C.

However, those plans were changed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The Generals are looking to host the Memorial Cup for the first time since 1987, while the Greyhounds last held the event in 1993.

In other QMJHL news, Rimouski Oceanic star forward Alexis Lafreniere will not be part of the league’s return to play plans.

Lafreniere, who is expected to be selected first overall by the New York Rangers in October’s NHL Entry Draft, will instead focus on his training before attempting to make the jump to pro ranks according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie.

He had 297 points in 173 games for the Oceanic over the last three years.