On Friday evening, the Western Hockey League announced it will be going ahead with a regular season and playoff for the 2020-21 calendar year. Despite waiting until what seemed like the eleventh hour, league commissioner Ron Robison did officially confirm the news in partnership with the Canadian Hockey League.
“The Western Hockey League is committed to providing a season for WHL players,” Robison said. “This commitment ensures WHL players will receive the opportunity to compete at the highest level in the system and continue to pursue their hockey goals in the world’s finest development league for junior hockey players.”
Although nothing official pertaining to schedule breakdown, travel, in-arena spectators, division/conference realignment or game structure has been announced, the one thing that Robinson and Co. did allude to is the fact that the 2020-21 season would be of the shortened nature.
Typically playing a 68-game regular season and four-round, best-of-seven postseason, western Canada’s premier major junior hockey league will be looking at a 24-game season, roughly one-third of the typical hockey calendar. There has been no indication of playoff format moving forward.
“All models and schedule formats are being considered by the WHL to ensure a WHL season is provided for the players,” the WHL announced. “The start date for the season will be determined once final approval has been received from the Health Authorities in each provincial and state jurisdiction and it is anticipated these approvals will be received soon.”
Last season, the league was forced to go under suspension with clubs having completed 93 percent of the scheduled regular games. After much deliberation, the regular season was officially cancelled with the hopes of hosting the playoffs at a later date. That decision was later called off as the global pandemic showed no signs of slowing down. And for the first time in its then 54-year history, the Ed Chynoweth Cup was not presented to the league’s postseason victor.
The WHL headquarters is based out of Calgary, Alberta and overseas its 22 member teams. With five teams based in northwestern United States, certain cross-border limitations will most definitely restrict Canadian and American teams from meeting in the early going.
The remaining 17 teams within Canada are located as far west as Vancouver Island, British Columbia, all the way to Winnipeg, Manitoba. Typically, the Western Hockey League provides the majority of Canadian players for the National Junior Team that competes annually at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship. In the 2021 running of the tournament, 10 players came out of the Western Hockey League.