Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/9/2021 (280 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In a world where COVID-19 vaccinations are a polarizing force, the Western Hockey League has become a tiny bubble of compliance.
WHL commissioner Ron Robison said in a virtual press conference all players and coaching staffs are vaccinated, with no one stepping away from the league in protest after it became a WHL mandate.
"We received excellent co-operation on that level," Robison said. "Prior to mandating, we had over 95 per cent and now we have 100 per cent of the players and staff fully vaccinated."
"There were no requests to opt out," he added later.
Teams are following local guidelines established by the venues on whether fans have to be vaccinated to attend.
One vexing COVID-related issue remains for Western Conference teams, who are still unable to cross the border to allow B.C. Division teams to meet U.S. Division squads. The delays have forced the league to rejig its schedule again.
"It is a concern, no question," Robison said. "We were hoping for better news from the last announcement on border crossing but we’re continuing to work with the authorities on that issue both in Canada and the United States, and I’m hopeful we’ll have some further updates that won’t require us to make any further adjustments to our schedule."
The Ontario Hockey League is facing similar issues and also lobbying for change.
"It’s been an extremely difficult process to go through," Robison said of COVID.
With the unusual shortened season last spring, about one-third of the WHL’s officials didn’t get any games. The WHL has added nine new referees and nine linesman for this season — they usually lose about four or five of each every season — with one of the new linesmen, 28-year-old Alex Clarke, becoming the first female official in Canadian Hockey League history.
"Alex has certainly earned herself a spot on the roster," senior director of officiating Kevin Muench said. "We have 18 new officials … all of them have been scouted by our department and we’ve been tracking their development. Alex, as a female, has proven that she’s earned the right to be part of that group.
"She’s extremely intelligent, she handles herself well, she has great composure, she understands the pressure of the games and has played at a high level.
"Alex is on the ice because she deserves to be part of our team."
In other news:
• The Swift Current Broncos have moved back to the Central Division after playing in the East Division hub last season when travel was restricted to Alberta.
• With Brandon installing its new boards, the entire league is now fully compliant with the new rink board systems. "All of our current facilities meet guidelines for WHL standards on all levels, including the safety aspects with rink boards, lighting and you’re going to see a significant difference in our broadcast platform this year," Robison said.
• Vice-President, Hockey Richard Doerksen explained the league’s seven new rules, noting four are currently used in the National Hockey League, two are used by the International Ice Hockey Federation and one was implemented for player safety. The most interesting is that coaches can now challenge a goal if they think the play was off-side, but with no blue-line cameras in use in the league, some reviews will be judged to be inconclusive.
• The league is continuing to peck away at digitizing its entire history. There is currently no game information on the website prior to March 20, 1996, meaning nearly three decades of WHL history remains lost. Robison said it was one of the initiatives forced onto the back burner as the league grappled with COVID-19.
• The WHL Cup remains in Red Deer, despite Alberta’s current challenges with the pandemic. Robinson said it was "concerning" but added the league’s robust protocols will be in place when it takes place from Oct. 20 to 24.
» Twitter: @PerryBergson