Rick Zamperin: OHL announces return to play plan, but will it work?

The Ontario Hockey League has released a few details of its return to play plan, but the question now is, will it work?

After cancelling the remainder of the 2019-20 season and playoffs in the spring as the coronavirus pandemic began to spread across North America, the OHL says it plans to come back on Dec. 1.

The league says it will employ a 64-game schedule, down from the traditional 68 games, and the regular season would wrap up on April 29, 2021.

Read more: Ontario Hockey League announces return to play plan, 2020-21 season to start Dec. 1

The OHL’s 2020-21 campaign would culminate in a 16-team playoff format, and the league says the 102nd Memorial Cup is scheduled to be played June 17-27, 2021, and will be hosted by either Oshawa or Sault Ste. Marie.

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The OHL says it will work with government and health agencies to “finalize outstanding issues,” including whether fans will be allowed to attend any games.

Commentary: OHL’s potential start date offers a ‘decent dose of hope,’ Mike Stubbs says

That all sounds good, but as we know, the novel coronavirus has forced our way of life — from sports and education to shopping and working — to dramatically change.

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Here are the three most pressing questions facing the league as it maps out its strategy for next season.

1. Will fans be allowed? The OHL is like any business and team owners will desperately want fans, even some who are forced to physically distance, to support their revenue stream.

2. What if the Canada-U.S. border remains closed? There are no details yet on how the league’s three American teams (Erie, Flint and Saginaw) will be handled if the ban on non-essential travel is still in effect come December.

3. Can the league return safely? This is the No. 1 question and it comes with a hefty price tag for continuously testing players, staff and billets, along with in-arena modifications to promote physical distancing and PPE.

Rick Zamperin is the assistant program, news and senior sports director at Global News Radio 900 CHML.

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