The OHL season is still without a start date and it’s already mid-February. The Western Hockey League has agreed on a 24-game season and is waiting for final approval of health authorities in each province.
The OHL and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, however, have still not made a decision, and players’ careers are on the line.
Some OHL players have been able to sign a professional contract overseas to continue their development, however that isn’t the case for the vast majority.
With the bulk of OHL players not in formal training, NHL teams’ front offices find themselves in a difficult position. Who will they pick in the draft if they aren’t sure how players are developing?
For some players, it has been a long, exhausting absence from hockey.
“It’s been almost a year since I’ve played in a competitive hockey game,” said Cole Schwindt, Mississauga Steelheads forward and Florida Panthers prospect. “From a personal standpoint that takes a toll on you mentally. The real test for all the training you do behind the scenes is playing in games. Knowing if something is or isn’t working in your training regimen is all based on games and your overall performance.”
While Schwindt didn’t take the overseas route like some OHL’ers, he got the opportunity to play for a spot on the Canadian World Junior team in November. Now he is splitting time in Florida and Syracuse where he is playing for a position on the Florida Panthers and the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch. During the original outbreak of COVID-19, Schwindt felt lucky he had access to a safe and sanitary gym in Waterloo, Ont., called TNT Training.
“They set up a great program and allowed me to continue my development over the extended break we had,” Schwindt said. While he was able to stay in the best shape possible, some players may not have gotten an opportunity like that.
At this point of the year the OHL would usually be about halfway done, and some players have voiced their opinions that they just want to get back on the ice. They understand the restrictions that would be put in place, such as no hitting and minimal physical contact, but continuing their development and simply getting back out there is most important.
“Just let us play hockey,” said Kosta Manikis, Sudbury Wolves forward.
Despite how difficult it will be for NHL teams in the upcoming draft, the issue stems further into the OHL draft. With youth hockey still not on the ice due to Ontario’s health and safety guidelines, many questions will arise when OHL teams are selecting players in the draft.