The Western Hockey League announced today it has been granted approval by the Government of Alberta and Alberta Health to return to play, which will enable the WHL’s Alberta-based teams in the Central Division to open their season on Friday, February 26.
“The WHL appreciates the support we have received from Alberta Health as we work towards a safe return to play in the province,” commented WHL Commissioner Ron Robison. “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.”
Five WHL Clubs, which operate in Alberta, will form the Central Division, including the Red Deer Rebels, Edmonton Oil Kings, Lethbridge Hurricanes, Medicine Hat Tigers, and Calgary Hitmen. The WHL has agreed that all Central Division games during the 2020-21 Regular Season will be played exclusively within the provincial boundaries of Alberta.
The WHL’s Central Division will play a 24-game Regular Season schedule, which will be announced at a later date. The WHL Central Division schedule will commence on Friday, February 26. Based on the approved WHL protocols, the schedule will allow for a maximum of one opponent per week, with a five-day break prior to playing a new opponent. As a result, WHL Central Division games will be played on weekends and consist of home-and-home games only.
The WHL has developed an extensive set of protocols, to not only provide a safe environment for players and staff, but to protect Albertans in the community.
WHL players and staff from Alberta-based Clubs will begin self-quarantining on Saturday, January 30 and then will report to their WHL Club on Saturday, February 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 open on Friday, February 12 at the earliest.
WHL Clubs are also committed to providing private PCR testing through DynaLIFE Medical Labs, to ensure no additional strain is placed on public health. Players will be tested upon arrival to their WHL Club and once again before engaging in any team activity. DynaLIFE’s PCR testing is considered a gold standard for COVID-19 testing, and was utilized in Edmonton during the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs and the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship.
The WHL will implement an ongoing weekly private PCR testing strategy. If a WHL Club has one or more players or staff test positive for COVID-19 at any point in the season, the Club will be required to suspend its Club activities for a minimum of 14 days.
Enhanced screening for all WHL players, billets, team staff and officials will take place on a daily basis, including regular temperature screenings as well as symptom monitoring through the WHL Athlete RMS Mobile Application. Masks must be worn by all WHL players at all times with the exception of when participating on ice for games and practices. WHL coaches will be required to wear masks at all times, including while conducting practice and while behind the bench during games.
As the WHL returns to play in the Central Division, no spectators will be permitted to enter WHL facilities.
The WHL continues to work with government and health authorities in each provincial and state jurisdiction to establish a start date for the WHL’s East Division, B.C. Division and U.S. Division. Approval from the health authorities is required in each jurisdiction for the balance of the WHL Divisions to return to play.