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WHL announces March 19th start date for Thunderbirds, US Division

After over a year with no hockey the Seattle Thunderbirds will start their season March 19th (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

Friday evenings are usually reserved for bad news, but the Western Hockey League turned the tables this Friday and announced that its US Division was set to begin the season on March 19th.

The WHL received the green light from Washington Governor Jay Inslee earlier in the week to play hockey in the state after several meetings to work out protocols and safety plans. Washington State will require the WHL to follow Covid protocols similar to the NCAA sports already being played in Washington.

In a press release Friday, the league indicated that all five U.S. Division clubs would play this season. That includes the Portland Winterhawks although it’s not clear yet where they will play as Oregon has not approved indoor sports to begin. There is speculation the Winterhawks could play across the border in Washington, either in Vancouver or as far North as Kent. No details were offered by the WHL.

Also unknown is the season schedule or when players would return to their teams to begin training camp. In January the league announced it was looking at a 24-game season that will be limited to divisional play. Players will need to return from their homes and would be required to quarantine before hitting the ice.

Last week the WHL received similar approval from the province of Alberta and announced the Central Division would begin its schedule on February 26th. The WHL is still working with health authorities in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and British Columbia to get approval for teams in those provinces to begin their seasons.

The league’s statement offered that more information, such as schedule would be forthcoming but did state that no fans would be allowed in WHL buildings during the season. To combat no fans, the Tri-City Americans announced all 12 of their home games would be televised in the Tri-City area.

There was no word on how many, if any, Thunderbirds games would end up on television.

Suffice to say the WHL season will look different than any before it and the league and franchises are playing for the development of its players. With no fans and gate receipts, the teams will be suffering a substantial financial loss. But, players such as Seattle’s Conner Roulette, Kai Uchacz, Lucas Ciona, and Thomas Milic will benefit in what will be their NHL Draft seasons as scouts will now have tape and extra viewings of them.

Seattle’s older players will benefit from more ice time as will incoming rookies like former first-round picks Jordan Gustafson and Kevin Korchinksi.