Players in the 62-team Provincial Junior Hockey League may start playing meaningful games as soon as Feb. 1, 2021.
In a board of governors meeting Nov. 25, the league selected that date to drop the first puck of the season.
In a release, the league’s commissioner, Terry Whiteside, said the date will be confirmed once all of the public health units in the league’s regions give permission to play.
There are 15 different public health units in the PJHL’s region.
More information on schedules and playoff formats have been reviewed by the board of governors and will be announced closer to Feb. 1, the release noted.
“Schedule and playoffs will not be announced until we move closer to a potential return to ensure we are following all guidelines,” Whiteside said in an email. “The health units will obviously play a major role in how or if we can play or have fans.”
The PJHL was created for the 2016-17 season and merged the eight different Junior C leagues in the province under one governing body.
The league stretches as far west as Essex and Lambton counties, east to the Niagara region and north to the Georgian Bay area.
The league itself falls under the umbrella of the Ontario Hockey Association, which is part of the Ontario Hockey Federation and Hockey Canada.
The 2020 playoffs ended in mid-March due to the pandemic.
The upcoming season was first announced in August for a Dec. 1 start date, but that was ultimately pushed back after the board told teams in an email “there is no possible way to start regular hockey at that date.”
The Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League recently announced a Jan. 15 start date, which was six weeks later than previously announced. That start date still hinges on regional health units giving the thumbs up due to COVID-19.
The Junior B league received approval from the Ontario Hockey Federation to have playing rules for five-on-five games with post-whistle scrums, intentional physical contact and deliberate bodychecking not being allowed.
Players in Junior B will also have to wear the bubble face mask and a face covering.
The Ontario Hockey League is having an anticipated start date of Feb. 4, with a reduced 40-game season. It’s still uncertain if fans will be allowed, but intentional physical contact is banned for the upcoming season.
For the PJHL, Whiteside said they have the ability to play with the same modified five-on-five rules as the GOJHL. More information, such as health protocols and whether fans are allowed in the arenas, will remain a question mark until closer to the expected start date.
To play games, teams will have to meet the guidelines of the municipality they play in, the region’s public health unit, the governing bodies of the Ontario Hockey Association and Hockey Canada, and the province.
As the majority of teams in the league are community run, their biggest source of revenue comes from paying fans. Many teams often struggle to break even each season and, without the gate receipts, it could see teams fold under the financial pressure.