WHL receives approval to return to play in Alberta

Five Central Division clubs to begin season on Feb. 26; no fans in the stands for games

It’s been a long time coming, but there is an apparent light at the end of the tunnel for fans of the Western Hockey League who have been waiting for teams to return to the ice.

The league announced on Thursday afternoon that they had been granted approval to return to play in Alberta.

As a result, the five teams in the Central Division this year (Calgary Hitmen, Edmonton Oil Kings, Lethbridge Hurricanes, Medicine Hat Tigers and Red Deer Rebels) will start their regular season slate on Friday, Feb. 26.

The Swift Current Broncos, who played in the Central Division last season, have been moved back to the East Division for the 2020-21 campaign.

“The WHL appreciates the support we have received from Alberta Health as we work towards a safe return to play in the province,” WHL Commissioner Ron Robison said in a press release. “With our extensive protocols and the necessary approvals now in place, we are looking forward to play getting underway in Alberta and allowing our players to continue their development at the highest level in the Canadian system.”

In Thursday’s release, the league announced that players and staff from Alberta-based Clubs will begin self-quarantining on Saturday, Jan. 30 and then will report to their WHL Club on Saturday, Feb. 6, where they will be required to undergo COVID-19 testing upon arrival followed by an additional quarantine period.

Pre-season on-ice training for the Central Division teams will start on Friday, Feb. 12 at the earliest.

The regular season schedule for each club is slated for 24 games and will allow for a maximum of one opponent per week, with a five-day break prior to playing a new opponent.

As a result, Central Division games will be played on weekends and consist of home-and-home games only, with no spectators in the stands.

The league also announced that are continuing to work with government and health authorities in each provincial and state jurisdiction to establish a start date for the East Division, B.C. Division and U.S. Division.