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A shortened season and intra-divisional play only are just some of the changes we’ll see if the QMJHL’s plan to start on Oct. 1 comes together.
League representatives made a pitch to government officials from Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and P.E.I. last week that spelled out measures they are prepared to implement in order to return to play for 2020-21.
The highlights are a reduced schedule from the standard 68 games to 60, three new divisions with teams only playing within those groups, limited travel, and drastically scaled back training camps. Teams will only be allowed to invite a maximum of 34 players to camp, down from the usual 60. Teams can, however, still start by Aug. 26, which is only about a week and a half later than normal.
QMJHL commissioner Gilles Courteau’s preference at this point is to reserve comment until he has a response from the government officials but league spokesperson Maxime Blouin offered the following confirmation and statement.
“Those elements are part of our return to play plan that we’ve presented to the four provinces (government and public health),” Blouin said. “We are really confident that this is a great plan to offer our players, staff, coaches, officials and fans a safe environment.”
What that means for Nova Scotia’s two major junior teams - the Halifax Mooseheads and Cape Breton Eagles - is they will only play games against each other and the four other Atlantic teams in a newly formed division. The other division teams are the Moncton Wildcats, Saint John Sea Dogs, Bathurst Titan and Charlottetown Islanders.
The two other proposed divisions are: Blainville-Boisbriand, Drummondville, Gatineau, Rouyn-Noranda, Sherbrooke and Val-d’Or; and Baie-Comeau, Chicoutimi, Quebec, Rimouski, Shawinigan and Victoriaville. They are structured with geography in mind, with the hope hotel stays can be minimized. This will help with health and safety factors, but also reduce operational costs.
This is particularly salient since there is no firm outline yet on what accommodations can be made for fans, except that current guidelines in all four provinces still call for strict limits. Unlike professional sports, major junior teams rely heavily on ticket revenue so this will be a critical element to track.
Considering the proposed season start is still more than two months away, it’s likely the league is holding off on a firm plan in case there are any changes or easing of the restrictions between now and then. The league has also not yet made any proposals regarding playoffs, opting instead again for a wait-and-see approach. A decision isn’t expected to come until December.