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QMJHL commissioner unveils plans for second half of season

Halifax Mooseheads defenceman Lucas Robinson tries to keep the puck from Moncton Wildcats forward Alexis Daniel during an Oct. 29 QMJHL game at the Scotiabank Centre. (TIM KROCHAK/CHRONICLE HERALD)
Halifax Mooseheads defenceman Lucas Robinson tries to keep the puck from Moncton Wildcats forward Alexis Daniel during an Oct. 29 QMJHL game at the Scotiabank Centre. (TIM KROCHAK/CHRONICLE HERALD)

Gilles Courteau is confident there will be more QMJHL hockey this season.

The league commissioner explained on Tuesday that if the status of the pandemic improves during December, the number one option would be to return to what was in place in the fall with modified league play and travel.

If that isn't possible, the league hopes to work with the provincial governments in Nova Scotia, Quebec, New Brunswick and P.E.I. to set up bubbles for condensed periods of play during January and February. The league announced on Monday it is on hiatus for December.

"If the pandemic is not good (by January) and there's still the situation where we have in Quebec some red zones and in the Maritimes some specific areas where teams aren't able to travel, we'll go with a protected environment event," Courteau said. "The first weekend would be two games in three days in six different areas - four in Quebec and two in the Maritimes - from January 22nd to January 24th. After that if we keep on going with the protected environments, we'll have three groups of four teams in Quebec for six games per team over nine days from January 30th to February 7th and we'll have a group of six Maritime teams for an an event of five games over eight days from January 30th to February 6th."

Courteau made it clear several times the bubbles are conditional on government approval across the QMJHL's territory but the league also just completed a successful seven-team, 10-day bubble in Quebec City.

QMJHL leadership submitted its proposals to the four provincial bodies on Tuesday morning to get the process started as early as possible. Courteau said the paperwork covered everything from practice protocols to academic guidelines for the student-athletes.

The league is also being careful to prepare for varying restrictions in each province, particularly in the Maritimes where travellers are required to quarantine for 14 days after reentering from another province.

"Yesterday when we were talking to our teams we presumed the 14-day quarantine period will stay on for (our players) returning from Christmas break, so this is the reason why we won't be able to return to play before somewhere between January 20th and 23rd," Courteau said. "It all depends on if public health will give our teams permission to practice during the quarantine or not. That's going to be part of another question we'll have for public health when we meet with them."

Although Courteau said the league leaders spent a considerable amount of time working out the details of their contingency plans prior to pausing the season on Monday, they weren't in a position to send any proposals to the provincial governments until now. And with close to five weeks to work with, Courteau is optimistic the league and the public health officials can reach solutions in time to bring it all together according to their proposed schedule.

"First of all, it was important to communicate it to our teams to see if they were comfortable with it, and they are," Courteau said. "The next step will be to meet with public health. As of today, we have sent them a letter and we're expecting them to get back to us. That's the reason why from today until mid-December, we should have more precise answers from them and be able to get back to our teams with exactly what they'll have to do in regards to sending players back home and what kind of quarantine format they'll be under and what will be the restrictions."

If the league ends up going with the bubbles, cities will then be eligible to submit bids to be hosts. At this time, only locations with QMJHL franchises are being considered and no one has entered a bid yet.

Despite all the complications and challenges around the Q so far this season, Courteau remains proud of the league's success to date. Most teams have played at least 10 games and some have completed as many as 16 for a league-wide total of 111. By comparison, the Ontario Hockey League and Western Hockey League have not played any games yet.

"We never talked about cancelling the season at all," he said. "When we made a decision back in late July, early August about resuming playing with our training camps and all that, the message to our owners has been very clear and the message to our coaches and GMs has been very clear that we were going to go through some roadblocks throughout the season, which we already did.

"We faced some specific issues but what I think happened over the last two weeks in Quebec City has been a real boost for our teams. It's been a real positive event and gave us faith when we sit down with the four provinces' public health departments that we have a good plan for them and we've been successful in Quebec and we're expecting the same."

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