TORONTO – Ontario is not ready to approve play for its two American Hockey League teams in the province, creating some uncertainty for a new five-team Canadian Division.
A spokesperson for Ontario sport minister Lisa MacLeod says the NHL is the only professional sport league allowed to play “in accordance with a return to play plan approved by the office of the chief medical officer of health.”
The Belleville Senators (the Ottawa Senators’ top farm club) and the Toronto Marlies (Toronto Maple Leafs) are slated to join the Manitoba Moose (Winnipeg Jets), Laval Rocket (Montreal Canadiens) and Stockton Heat, who have relocated to their NHL team’s home in Calgary, in the Canadian Division during the 2021 season.
Teams will only play divisional games, preventing border restrictions from affecting action during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The AHL season is set to open Friday, but no Canadian Division games are scheduled for the opening weekend.
Dakota Brasier, a spokesperson for MacLeod, offered no timeline for when AHL play could return on Thursday.
“Our government is monitoring the public health trends very closely, and while we are starting to see the bend curve in Ontario, it is too early to speculate on how and when further restrictions will be loosened,” Brasier said in a statement.
Brasier added MacLeod will work with stakeholders across the sector to develop a safe reopening plan.
The Vancouver Canucks (Utica, N.Y.) and Edmonton Oilers (Bakersfield, Calif.) are the only Canadian teams with American-based AHL affiliates this season.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2021.