A decision on the potential return of the Ontario Hockey League could come by the end of the month.
Ontario Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries Lisa MacLeod said Wednesday that discussions remain ongoing with the league and that the OHL’s return to play plan could be announced by the end of March.
“If we can land something, I’m optimistic by the end of this month that we’ll be able to make an announcement and that they can get to work on selecting the locations and the venues in which they will play,” MacLeod said.
MacLeod also said fans in the rinks remains “off the table” at this point.
“When we talk to the OHL about their operation, what I foresee is that in order for them to get a season in is some additional financial support from us,” MacLeod said. “It’s still too early in the game to assess what that actually is until we actually have the finer points dealt with in the return to play protocol.”
MacLeod said it’s “far too early to speculate” what exactly the funding number would be at this point.
She added that the cost of running an OHL bubble likely won’t be similar to the to the cost of running the NHL bubble during the summer, which was in the $40 million range.
“I don’t think we’re looking at something that steep,” MacLeod said, adding that factors including the number of hub cities, potential municipal support in those cities and financial support of corporations in those cities.
“It’s very complex in order for us to make this work,” MacLeod said. “We have to look at sanitation costs, rapid testing costs, what it’s going to cost for officials. These are all the things that we’re looking at, but at the same time making sure that any protocol that we have reflects the safety standards it’s going to require to get back on the ice.
As far as a potential schedule length, MacLeod said it’s “too early to say” what it might be at this point.
“The goal will be to get in over 20 games if we can,” MacLeod said.
MacLeod said she doesn’t have a lot of confidence that the Memorial Cup will in the immediate future.
“I had the opportunity to meet with the administration of the Greyhounds (in the summer),” MacLeod said. “We would want to make sure that if (the Memorial Cup) is going to be awarded in Ontario, that this government is there to support it. We were looking at different options there, but I would say it’s too premature (to discuss it further).”
“I don’t have a lot of confidence that it would happen before probably late 2021 or 2022,” MacLeod added.
MacLeod also touched on the change of opinion in regards to allowing hitting as part of the OHL return.
Part of the change stems from the potential for the league to use hub cities in order to return to play.
“We would need to get the Medical Officer of Health to sign off on contact, given the integrity of that bubble,” MacLeod said.
MacLeod added that the return to play proposals for the AHL and the NHL were 600 pages long and included “rigorous testing, rigorous sanitation standard.”
“A lot of detail goes into this planning in order for us to make sure that the athletes themselves would be safe,” MacLeod added.
As part of Wednesday’s announcement, MacLeod did say that the province has committed $2.35 million to the OHL’s scholarship program for the 17 Ontario-based teams in the league, which breaks down to roughly $138,000 per team.