While the first part of the AHL schedule for both the Toronto Marlies and Belleville Senators has already been released, with the two teams traveling outside of the province of Ontario, it still wasn’t clear how long they would have to wait to host home games. That problem seems resolved now, as Lisa MacLeod, Ontario’s Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Minister, tweets that the chief medical officer has approved a return-to-play plan for both teams to host games.
This is huge for the AHL, who had a Canadian Division of teams all circling Ontario, hoping that they would be able to play in the province before the end of their shortened season. It also provides some hope for the Ontario Hockey League, which is still on pause even while the QMJHL continues and the WHL prepares to start. There was some hope that the OHL has formed a start plan recently, but the league threw cold water on any speculation by announcing they have “not yet arrived at an approved return to play framework for the coming season.”
That speculation is going to ramp up again now that the province has allowed the Marlies and Senators to play, especially with pressure from the NHL. The OHL is one of the biggest sources of draft picks for the professional leagues and many of its players haven’t been on the ice in a competitive game in nearly a year. As explained the other day though, if the OHL does restart it will pose an interesting predicament to NHL squads that have junior-aged players suiting up in the AHL currently. Those players would need to return to their junior team once it restarts or go to the NHL, even if they’re handling themselves at the minor league level.
At any rate, this is strong news for the AHL. It happens to come on the same day that Belleville will start their season, hitting the ice against the Laval Rocket later this evening.