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WHL commits to playing shortened 2020-2021 season but start date is TBD

The WHL announced Friday it was committed to having a season in 2021 (Brian Liesse-T-Birds)

The Western Hockey League announced late Friday evening that it was committed to playing a 2020-2021 season consisting of a minimum of 24-games but did not establish a start date.

Any start date is going to be determined after the league receives approval from each of the local health authorities that it operates in. Those regions include Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

“The Western Hockey League is committed to providing a season for WHL players,” WHL Commissioner Ron Robison said in a press release. “This commitment ensures WHL players will receive the opportunity to compete at the highest level in the system and continue to pursue their hockey goals in the world’s finest development league for junior hockey players.”

The WHL offered no other details as to schedules, playoff formats, or expected time frame for further information.

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee recently announced protocols to open the state that would allow for athletic competition to resume. Regions can move into opening up phases based on infection and hospitalization rates.

What this means for the WHL is unclear as the five teams in the states are in different regions.

Initially, the WHL said it couldn’t play unless approved to have up to 50-percent capacity attendance in all of its arenas. In October it backed off that and said it was willing to play this season without fans in the building. This would obviously cause a huge financial loss for WHL teams as they rely heavily on gate revenues. It’s unlikely the State would allow for fans to be in arenas at any time during the upcoming season.

The WHL had set three previous season start dates. The first was for the beginning of October, then December, and finally a ‘firm’ date on the first weekend of January. However, due to rising COVID-19 cases in December, the league announced the January 8th date would no longer work and that the league would meet in January to discuss further.

In the last week, prominent WHL players have signed on to play with USHL teams for the upcoming season. That list included 2022 top NHL prospect Matthew Savoie of the Winnipeg ICE. Four Portland Winterhawks also are set to join the Lincoln Stars of the USHL. These signings were originally categorized as ‘back up’ plans in case there was no start to the WHL season.

Seattle general manager Bil Laforge confirmed earlier this week that no Seattle Thunderbirds players had agreed to play in the USHL.