Shahab confirms province in talks with WHL about ‘hub’

SCREEN CAPTURE Saskatchewan’s chief medical officer Dr. Saqib Shahab speaks during a press conference last year.

While the Western Hockey League has yet to make an official statement about a potential hub location for the East Division in Regina, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said that the province is in discussions with the circuit about the possibility.

“Major sports have already successfully gone through effective isolation of players and teams from each other, except during play, and from teams from the surrounding communities,” Shahab said in response to a question from Arthur White-Crummey of the Regina Leader-Post during a press conference on Tuesday.

“That hub model has shown to be successful…across Canada. That same model is being explored by the WHL. We have given our recommendations to the WHL for a hub approach and are awaiting their confirmation of the same.”

Mike Sawatzky of the Winnipeg Free Press said in an article last Wednesday that Regina had emerged as a front runner for the hub location and that games could start as early as March 4.

“It’s been discussed and I would say there’s a tentative plan in place but I know that there’s no date established yet,” Regina Pats vice-president of hockey operations and general manager John Paddock said to Sawatzky. “That might be a hopeful date.

“The province and medical people are in charge… It’s been discussed about (Regina) being the hub here in some sort of detail, but the dates — it would be premature to put down any date as far as I know.”

According to Sawatzky, games would be held without fans at the Brandt Centre, practice ice would be available at the Co-operators Centre and the league is planning to have players and team personnel stay in dorms at the University of Regina.

Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek tweeted last Wednesday night that the WHL had received approval from the province for the hub, which would feature the Brandon Wheat Kings, Moose Jaw Warriors, Prince Albert Raiders, Regina Pats, Saskatoon Blades, Swift Current Broncos and Winnipeg Ice.

However, both the league and Premier Scott Moe said a day later that approval of such a plan had not been given.

As of Tuesday night, two of the WHL’s four divisions have confirmed dates to begin their seasons.

The Central Division, which features the Calgary Hitmen, Edmonton Oil Kings, Lethbridge Hurricanes, Medicine Hat Tigers and Red Deer Rebels, will begin play on Feb. 26.

The U.S. Division, which consists of the Everett Silvertips, Portland Winterhawks, Seattle Thunderbirds, Spokane Chiefs and Tri-City Americans, are expected to start their slate of games on March 19.

All teams will play in their own venues, except for the Winterhawks, who will be on the road to start the year as they’ve yet to receive approval to take to the ice in Oregon.

No fans will be in the stands for any games in the two divisions.

Meanwhile, discussions are ongoing with the WHL and the B.C. government about returning to play, with the potential of hub locations in Kamloops and Kelowna.

In the proposed plan, the Kelowna Rockets and Victoria Royals will play in Kelowna, while the Kamloops Blazers and Prince George Cougars would be located in Kamloops.

A location has yet to be determined for the Vancouver Giants.

–With files from Peter Lozinski