Erie Otters play in uncertain times as Ontario tightens COVID restrictions

·3 min read

The Ontario Hockey League Board of Governors reaffirmed its commitment to the 2021-22 season in a statement released on Wednesday.

Due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced new restrictions across the province, which went into effect Wednesday.

The restrictions in Ontario do not affect the Erie Otters directly, but the team will certainly need to be flexible as the OHL finds ways to mold its ever-changing schedule.

The Otters have already had to shift a game in its schedule since the announcement. Erie was scheduled to play a home-and-home against Kitchener this weekend, but Saturday's home date has been postponed. Instead, the Otters will play at Kitchener both Friday (7:30 p.m.) and Saturday (4 p.m.).

The home game against the Rangers will be rescheduled.

Down the stretch, the Otters might have to shift other games around in their schedule to accommodate Ontario teams with a glut of games to make up.

Erie Otters forward Brendan Hoffmann, left, goes for the puck near Saginaw Spirit forward Dean Loukus, sliding after colliding with Otters forward Brendan Sellan, background, on Oct. 23, 2021, at Erie Insurance Arena. It was first Otters game on home ice after 594 days away due to the pandemic.
Erie Otters forward Brendan Hoffmann, left, goes for the puck near Saginaw Spirit forward Dean Loukus, sliding after colliding with Otters forward Brendan Sellan, background, on Oct. 23, 2021, at Erie Insurance Arena. It was first Otters game on home ice after 594 days away due to the pandemic.

When Ford's announcement was made Monday, the OHL began to work with government and public health officials in order to keep its season on track. Sport and fitness facilities, including gyms, have closed. However, professional and elite amateur sports teams are permitted to continue operations without fans in the crowd.

"I think (the OHL) has some plans in place," said Otters general manager Dave Brown. "I don't think we're looking at any disruptions to my knowledge. We may have to make some creative changes to our schedule on the fly. That will happen as we continue to see what our hurdles are."

Dave Brown, Erie Otters
Dave Brown, Erie Otters

The OHL plans to forge ahead despite the hurdles encountered since the league's first postponement on Dec. 1. Since then, 39 games have been postponed. Some games have already been rescheduled and played. Several others are still on the docket.

Flint and Saginaw made the most of matters Wednesday. They were originally scheduled to host Guelph and Windsor, respectively. Instead, the two Michigan-based teams met in Saginaw. Their Canadian counterparts actually swapped into a game at Guelph, but that contest went unplayed.

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The league currently has 19 games still on the schedule from Thursday through Sunday while six others have been postponed.

The Otters have played only two games since Dec. 12, racking up wins in back-to-back games for the first time all season. COVID-19 protocols have resulted in the postponements of four games after the team had 13 players test positive for the virus on Dec. 15.

Erie's first two postponements, Dec. 17 at Guelph and Dec. 18 at home against Kitchener, have been rescheduled. The Otters will visit Guelph on March 13 and host Kitchener on April 3.

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The Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 home games against Guelph and London still need new dates. The Otters returned from their quarantine with a 7-2 win at Hamilton on Dec. 30, but the Storm and Knights had COVID-19 hit their rosters prior to their Erie trips.

For now, the most important challenge for the Otters remains avoiding another widespread brush with COVID-19 and keeping the team healthy.

"There's still a lot of hurdles, but in the next 24 hours, we're going to be able to attack them," Brown said. "The league has been working diligently since the announcement to get to a point where we're up and running. I think the owners are committed to continuing to play.

"We had a GMs call the other day and there was no talk of pause. It was just getting teams to be able to play one another. There are games (Thursday night) that are on the schedule and they're probably going to go as scheduled. I haven't heard any different."

Contact Josh Reilly at jreilly@timesnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ETNreilly.

This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Erie Otters' weekend games still on as Ontario tightens restrictions

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