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Alberta-based WHL teams get approval to play condensed season

CALGARY — The Western Hockey League has received government approval to play a rejigged season in Alberta.

CALGARY — The Western Hockey League has received government approval to play a rejigged season in Alberta. 

The league announced Thursday that its five clubs based in the province — the Red Deer Rebels, Edmonton Oil Kings, Lethbridge Hurricanes, Medicine Hat Tigers and Calgary Hitmen — will form a Central Division and play the entire 24-game season in Alberta, starting on Feb. 26. 

The 22-team WHL also has clubs in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and B.C., as well as a U.S. Division featuring five teams in Oregon and Washington state.

The league said in a statement that it's still working to get approval to play from government and health authorities in those jurisdictions so start dates can be set for an East Division, B.C. Division and U.S. Division. 

COVID-19 protocols will limit the Alberta-based teams to playing one opponent per week, with a five-day break before facing another club. 

Testing will be conducted by a private company, and if a player or staff member tests positive for the virus, the team will be required to suspend operations for a minimum of 14 days. 

Players will begin quarantining on Jan. 30 before reporting to their clubs on Feb. 6. Once with their teams, players will be tested and undergo another quarantine period before on-ice training begins. 

“With our extensive protocols and the necessary approvals now in place, we are looking forward to play getting underway in Alberta and allowing our players to continue their development at the highest level in the Canadian system," WHL commissioner Ron Robison said in a statement. 

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League resumed its 2020-21 season last week after suspending play in December due to COVID-19 concerns. 

All 12 of the league's Quebec-based teams are playing in so-called bubbles  in Chicoutimi, Drummondville, Rimouski and Shawinigan, and the three teams based in Nova Scotia and P.E.I. are returning to play this week.

The Ontario Hockey League was originally targeting Feb. 4 to start its season but plans have been put on hold indefinitely due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 28, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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