Will COVID Kill Junior Hockey?

October 05, 2020

By Regan Bulger ’22

Will COVID-19 cancel the 2020-2021 junior hockey season? Junior hockey leagues canceled their 2019-2020 seasons abruptly last year when COVID-19 broke out in March. Due to the pandemic, USA Junior Hockey has changed dramatically. We sat down with Coach Tom Ward, Director of Player & Coach Development, to hear his thoughts on the leagues resuming play. Different leagues are starting their seasons on different dates.

This past spring, leagues were putting all their focus onto the 2020-2021 seasons being able to happen. This upcoming season is going to look a little different. The NAHL(North American Hockey League) has teams in 16 different states. Because the league has teams all over the country, the leagues commissioner Mark Frankenfield has granted all divisions immunity, so they can decide whether they’d like to participate in this season or not. The NAHL has planned to start playing again on November 9th, while the USHL( United States Hockey League) has planned on to start playing again on November 6th.

There will be a lot of restrictions put into play to make sure that everyone is safe. USHL continued with having a combine camp, but the NAHL has pushed back its annual combine camp until December 16th this year. Coach Ward believes that it will be harder for the league to start playing again when there are different states involved because they each have different guidelines and circumstances.

It will also be hard for some teams to survive financially. Coach Ward says, “Junior hockey is primarily based … hockey in general even in the national hockey league, is a gate driven enterprise”. Most teams in the NAHL and USHL can usually draw fans for games especially in the bigger cities.  Ward points out, “ If you don’t have your gate receipts you can’t fund it. Junior teams pay their ice times, pay for sticks, and pay their coaches with gate receipts … If teams can’t get fans in their stands because of rules and regulations from their states, I don’t know how they are going to function. The wealthiest teams will play because they have money in the bank, but the checkbook teams aren’t gonna be able to make it. They’ll end up losing money” he explains. Most likely teams will end up just playing teams within their certain divisions to limit the amount of travel. Bigger leagues will probably have a harder time surviving rather than smaller leagues because they are way more spread out.

“If there’s not a lot of hockey being played as we push forward through winter here, the next draft and those next opportunities and junior and college things like that could be affected.” Some junior leagues and colleges might end up granting players another year of eligibility.

Start Dates:

The MJHL ( Manitoba Junior Hockey League) October 9th

The BCGL (British Columbia Hockey League) December 1st

The OHL( Ontario Junior Hockey league) December 1st

The WHL (Western Hockey League) December 4th

The AJHL (Alberta Junior Hockey League) December 4th

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