After careful consideration from the CHL and its regional leagues, the decision was made on Monday evening to cancel the playoffs and the Memorial Cup. The news comes amidst the global pandemic as COVID-19 infections continue to spike. The news was first reported by Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet.ca.
The announcement comes one week following the cancellation of the regular season. That of course took place on Wednesday to flatten the curve of the novel coronavirus. In accordance to the cancellation, Josh Brown of the Waterloo Region Record reported that the 2021 Memorial Cup will either be held in Oshawa or Sault Ste. Marie.
With the postseason no longer happening as most of the country is put under quarantine, TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie reports that it is the first time in 102 years that the coveted trophy isn’t being awarded. That being said, despite the fact that division winners have been revealed, there unfortunately will not be a 2020 national junior hockey champion.
In a statement from Dan McKenzie, acting president of the Canadian Hockey League, he said on Monday, “We have continued to monitor the latest updates and advice from all public health agencies and medical experts, and worked tirelessly to determine a scenario by which the balance of our season could be played. Unfortunately, given the troubling state of our global climate and public welfare, there is still too much risk and uncertainty to move forward in good conscience.”
The Memorial Cup in Kelowna was set to begin on May 22nd. With that being said, Rockets GM and president Bruce Hamilton said, “From our perspective, it’s very disheartening.” Of course, this decision is as hard for the staff and coaches as it is the players. After the season on March 18th was cancelled, CHL import players were told to head home until further notice. From the OHL’s side in the call, this included Axel Bergkvist and Ville Ottavainen of the Kitchener Rangers. Bergkvist, 19, is an NHL prospect with the Arizona Coyotes.
“We told our players to try to work out the best you can and stay in shape so if something does happen they’re ready to go,” Mike McKenzie said. “It’s a little more difficult now with things closing and the way it (the virus) is spreading.”
When discussing the shutdown on Monday and the process that led towards cancelling the playoffs, David Branch, OHL commissioner, said, “This is a very difficult decision. In times like this, the safety of our players, officials, staff, fans and the general public is paramount.”
Because of that, on Thursday March 12th, the CHL suspended play region-wide. As well, the OHL Combine on March 28th and 29th in Oshawa was cancelled. To add to that, the Ontario Hockey League cancelled the annual priority selection due to safety concerns. To avoid further spreading the virus, the OHL draft will now happen online. In a release from the CHL, they said it will start at 9:00am on April 4th.
In similarity, the QMJHL followed, also cancelling their draft on June 6th in Sherbrooke. While that may be the reality, the draft positions of all member clubs have been set. Speaking of which, the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies won the Memorial Cup back in 2019.
On the OHL side of things, the Sudbury Wolves are set to select 11th overall. That comes after having been named as Central Division champions on Thursday March 19th. With that in mind, they receive the Emms Trophy while claiming the title for the first time since 2001.
As for the Saginaw Spirit, they have received the Bumbacco Trophy for a second straight season after winning the West Division. For Cole Perfetti and head coach Dave Drinkill, it’s their back-to-back season having claimed the top spot. Last, but not least, the London Knights who are this year’s winners of the Holody Trophy. The team, led by Connor McMichael, received this honour for the 10th time on Friday. With that in mind, for the second straight season, the Knights were named as the Midwest Division champions.
While they didn’t manage to claim a title this time around, the Kitchener Rangers go into April 4th with the 17th pick in the OHL Priority Selection. The Rangers completed the season seated well in third place in the western conference. With the season suddenly closing, they finish with a record of 40-16-5-2. The team, as of Wednesday’s conference call, would have had five games left, three of which would have been played on home ice at The Aud.
Speaking of which, on Wednesday, just minutes following the season’s conclusion, Dan McKenzie said in a statement with regards to the CHL’s postseason that it was their hope that the event in Kelowna would continue as initially scheduled. After having come to a conclusion, McKenzie said in his statement on Monday that despite their best efforts to progress, the CHL simply had no way to move forward.
While that’s no longer the case, GM Bruce Hamilton told The Canadian Press, “We’ll get it again, I’m hopeful and confident. But that’s a bridge we’ll cross on another day.” The Rockets of the WHL were awarded the championship back in 2018. While excited to host the event with the implications for Kelowna quite high, the city’s mayor, Colin Basran, said of the impact it would have pre-coronavirus that it was looking like a big sports and tourism season for the community in British Columbia’s Okanagan until the pandemic struck.
The championship in B.C.’s south end would have been made up of the hometown Rockets, the OHL champions, the WHL champions and the QMJHL champions. While only four clubs compete, the CHL’s three leagues combine for 60 teams countrywide and in the U.S. as well.
This tournament isn’t just big for the staff and players who are named to partake in it, but it is big in the sense that it operates before a sold out arena to bid the hockey season au revoir. To that end, to further top off the championship, Canadian country star and songwriter Brett Kissel was set to perform at a celebratory concert.
In connection to the momentous weekend, the Memorial Cup was first awarded to the junior hockey champions back in 1919. Since then, it has seen significant changes as the four-team format was later instituted. While still in effect to this day, the rule came about back in 1983.
Had the OHL playoffs been played, the postseason structures would have shaped out as follows:
(1) Ottawa 67s vs. (8) Kingston Frontenacs
(2) Sudbury Wolves vs. (7) Hamilton Bulldogs
(3) Peterborough Petes vs. (6) Mississauga Steelheads
(4) Oshawa Generals vs. (5) Barrie Colts
(1) London Knights vs. (8) Erie Otters
(2) Saginaw Spirit vs. (7) Owen Sound Attack
(3) Kitchener Rangers vs. (6) Guelph Storm
(4) Flint Firebirds vs. (5) Windsor Spitfires
With the league not able to finish, commissioner Branch said on Monday of the circumstances, “The environment that we currently find ourselves in is much more important than the game of hockey, and we all have a part to play in getting through these difficult times together. At the appropriate time, when it is safe to do so, our players look forward to returning to the ice in our passionate hockey communities to assist in the overall healing process.”