'Hopes and desires have been dashed': Windsor Spitfires casualty of OHL season cancellation
WINDSOR, ONT. -- The Windsor Spitfires won’t be hitting the ice this season after all.
The Ontario Hockey League announced the cancellation of the season on Tuesday.
“Can’t help but feel just horrible for the young teenagers and the fact the season’s over, it’s final,” said Windsor Spitfires General Manager Bill Bowler. “And it’s a real sad day.”
Earlier this month, the OHL and the Government of Ontario reached an agreement on a Return to Play plan for the league, but the commissioner said the recently extended stay-at-home order, along with increasing cases of COVID-19 across the province make it impossible for the OHL to have a season.
“We have worked tirelessly with the province and the chief medical officer of health for the past year on different scenarios and different windows of opportunity but the reality is the conditions in Ontario have never been right to start and complete an uninterrupted, safe opportunity for players to showcase their skills,” said OHL commissioner David Branch. “We owe it to our players and their families to be definitive. We were committed to return and play this season, but our hopes and desires have been dashed by the cruel realities of COVID-19.”
On March 18, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit said it was working directly with the Windsor Spitfires Operations and was reviewing its safety plan with the team’s designated task force.
“Ontario has the strongest health restrictions of any jurisdiction in North America and we understood that this would make a return to play scenario extremely difficult,” added Branch. “The openness the Premier, Minister Lisa MacLeod, the Office of the Chief Medical Officer and key staff have afforded us has not gone unnoticed and is greatly appreciated.”
Officials say the league and province had reached an agreement on the OHL Return to Play plan a few weeks ago, but on the eve of announcing any details, COVID-19 conditions worsened dramatically as new variants of concern took hold and posed a significant threat to overwhelm the health care system.
The plan envisioned a shortened season to be played in hub cities following the most rigorous COVID-19 containment protocols possible.
The goal was to showcase the league’s 450 players for scouts preparing for the 2021 NHL Draft, U SPORTS men’s hockey programs as well as Hockey Canada’s World Junior Summer Evaluation Camp.
“Fully anticipate an OHL draft, a U-18 selection draft and the of course the import draft,” Bowler said. “So we’re still doing everything we can and as stated and mentioned there’s hockey being played everywhere else so we just have to continue to do our job and continue to hope that 2021-2022 season starts on time.”
Branch said that they all agree that providing certainty for the players and families, even if it is not the answer they would want to hear, is the “right thing for everyone’s health and safety and for the mental health challenges faced by many of our young players.”
- With files from CTV Windsor's Angelo Aversa