Future of QMJHL season uncertain amid pandemic
SYDNEY, N.S. -- As of now, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League plans to drop the puck on Oct. 1, but one Maritime team says playing a season isn't financially viable if they can't have fans in the stands.
Usually at this point in August, Centre 200 staff would be preparing the Sydney, N.S., rink to welcome members of the Cape Breton Eagles for their training camp.
This August, there is a concrete floor instead of ice in the arena, and the future of the QMJHL season remains very much up in the air due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have a lot of questions,” says Charlene Pertus, Cape Breton Eagles billet co-ordinator. “They’re concerned about when they’re not in the house. I know our billets are all taking precautions in their home.”
Pertus is still waiting to see when, and even if, players will arrive in Sydney for training camp.
Those coming from outside the Atlantic bubble would be required to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, but even then, concerns remain.
“We have some billets that are very nervous. Myself, I’m nervous too, because you don’t know,” says Pertus.
The QMJHL is scheduled to drop the puck on Oct. 1, but a lot needs to be figured out before that comes to fruition.
“I’m semi-confident,” says Gerard Shaw, the Eagles' team president. “But we need health approvals from the provincial government.”
Even if the league is going forward, Maritime teams will need to convince their provincial health departments to allow them to welcome fans back into the arena.
“It’s impossible for us to play without them,” says Shaw of the fans. “We’re not the NHL, where they get their revenue from sponsorship and TV rights. We don’t have that luxury in this league.”
Shaw says the only fans that would be let in would be season ticketholders, and that number would be restricted to between 1,500 to 1,700 fans per game.
“We can do concessions, like restaurants. We are going to have to have zoning in our building, and seating by zooming, so you’re not allowed to leave your zone other than to go to the concessions or washroom,” explains Shaw.
The league is also proposing a reduced schedule -- 60 games, down from the standard 68.
A meeting being held Thursday night could go a long way towards determining that answer.
The current QMJHL proposal would see the Eagles in a sort of ‘Atlantic bubble’, playing their entire regular season against the other five Maritime teams -- the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, Charlottetown Islanders, Halifax Mooseheads, Moncton Wildcats and Saint John Sea Dogs.
The New Brunswick teams have been given the green light, provided they follow health guidelines put in place by the province.
The Nova Scotia and P.E.I. teams will have to submit proposals to their provincial governments to be approved.
Shaw admits, no matter what happens, the Eagles and the entire league will take a hit financially.