OJHL aims for season start in new year

Story by Jeff Gard/jgsportsmedia.com

Cobourg Cougars hockey is expected to return in the new year.

Goaltender Ethan Robertson and the Cobourg Cougars are preparing for the Ontario Junior Hockey League season, which could begin in early January. (Photo by Shawn Muir/OJHL Images)

On Thursday, the Ontario Junior Hockey League announced it has prepared for a targeted start in early January once approval has been granted from the appropriate governing authorities.

The schedule would feature 30 to 36 regular season games followed by a modified playoffs with best-of-three series instead of the traditional best-of-seven showdowns.

“We’re thrilled that there’s a date now attached to the season. I think it gives the players, staff and teams around the league something to shoot for and prepare for,” said Cougars head coach David DeMarinis. “I just applaud the commissioner, director of hockey operations and governors of the league that really helped get this going. I know they put a lot of work into this, a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of hours to get us to this point so we’re all grateful for that.”

During the past few months, the OJHL has worked with its various governing bodies and Regional Public Health Units (PHUs), its member branch and board of directors to determine a realistic start date.

“While we would have liked to announce a planned start date earlier in the year, we felt it best to work alongside all relevant authorities to give us the utmost in confidence surrounding all elements of our return to play plan and our planned start,” OJHL Commissioner Marty Savoy stated in a release.

Teams are now in the training phase and need to trim their rosters to 25 players to be eligible to start playing scrimmage or non-contact games that follow the league’s governing regulations and otherwise comply with applicable PHU regulations and guidelines.

According to the release, extensive COVID-19 protocols have been developed, including policy and procedures training each team has undertaken, as part of the OJHL’s Return to the Rink Plan.

Every team has received a full PPE package, including signage for prominent placement within arenas, re-usable masks with washable filters along with disposable surgical masks. Other key items include touchless thermometers, hand sanitizers and surgical gloves.

Most importantly, the release noted, each team is receiving a disinfectant fogger machine in partnership with CleanQuip Systems Inc., which will be used to disinfect and sanitize team dressing rooms and other team areas within each facility.

OJHL Chairman Marc Mercier, who is also the governor of the Cougars, stated in the release that the league “has spent a tremendous amount of time developing safety protocols, such as double screening, contact tracing, testing and PPE support packages for our clubs.

“For the last number of weeks, a number of our clubs have been training players in preparation to move forward to cohort bubbling of two teams for scrimmages or non-contact games. We are excited for this next step in our Return to the Rink plan as we initiate definitive steps toward starting our season.”

In Cobourg, the Cougars began training this week with Friday set to be the fourth time players and coaches are on the ice. The club has 24 players meaning one more can still be added.

This story was sponsored by Cobourg Now.

“From a team standpoint we’re really excited because we think we have a really good squad this year,” DeMarinis said. “Being on the ice this week, there has been a smile on everyone’s face. It’s different with the protocols in place for our players and staff, but at the end of the day we’re leaving the rink really excited and happy just being back on the ice.”

The Cougars will be in a cohort with the Whitby Fury for exhibition games.

“We can’t really judge our team until we start playing some games,” DeMarinis said. “Practice is one thing and the guys look really good after being off for a long period of time – I’m really impressed by the work ethic and the amount of skill that’s on the ice – but playing games is a better indication of what we really have.”

The OJHL release stated more details will be announced in the days and weeks ahead.

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About the Author: Jeff Gard