The Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators crossed the final hurdle, getting official word from the provincial government on Thursday that they can indeed play games in their home rinks this coming season.
There won’t be any fans in attendance, but the Leafs can play at Scotiabank Arena, while the Senators will return to the Canadian Tire Centre.
“This approval was granted after close scrutiny of the rigorous health and safety protocols that will be adopted to keep players staff and our communities safe from the spread of COVID-19,” minister of health, heritage, sport, tourism and culture Lisa MacLeod said in a statement, “while permitting Ontario’s NHL teams to play the game we all love to watch.”
Before next Wednesday’s regular-season opener against the Montreal Canadiens, the Leafs will play a blue vs. white scrimmage at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday (7 p.m., Sportsnet/TSN).
“We are thankful to have the approval of all government branches and health authorities to begin our season at Scotiabank Arena,” said Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas. “We understand that these are very challenging times for our health systems, local businesses and the community at large. Though we will not be permitted to host fans at our games, we wanted to be able to include our fans in every way that we can, including our training camp festivities and the (scrimmage).”
The NHL and its seven Canadian teams have been in talks with federal and provincial governments to clear the way for a 56-game schedule, including an all-Canadian division and limited travel.
Similar pronouncements have come from B.C., Alberta and Quebec. Manitoba has not issued formal approval, but the government there stated Wednesday that the Winnipeg Jets are expected to get the OK.
MacLeod’s statement was seen as a rubber-stamp with the NHL schedule already released. Like other provinces, Ontario built in a commitment by teams and players to act as role models in the fight against COVID-19.
“I look forward to continue to work with both the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Ottawa Senators on the public relations campaign to warn Ontarians against the spread of COVID-19, and to rebuild confidence in minor sports post pandemic,” said MacLeod.
The league has issued 54 pages of protocols requiring “strict adherence to preventative measures by all participants, including diligent hygiene and distancing practices” while acknowledging the protocol “cannot mitigate all risk.”
The guidelines are exhaustive — from when and where players and coaches must wear masks, to the bromine levels in hot tubs and the banning of saunas and steam rooms. Players are told to “stay at home to the greatest extent possible and do not engage in unnecessary interactions with non-family members.”
The league has also issued 13 pages of guidelines covering what happens after a positive test: for a player, 14 days of self-isolation. During the regular season, the league says it will make public the names of players who have tested positive “as soon as is practical” but always before their next game.
Decisions regarding a player’s return after a positive test will be made by team medical staff in accordance with local health guidelines and protocols.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION
What do you think about the NHL season reopening?