Planning continues for Kelowna's hosting of the Memorial Cup in late May despite the nationwide shutdown of major junior hockey leagues because of the coronavirus.
Tom Dyas, chair of the local organizing committee, says preparations for the 10-day tournament are proceeding even though all games in the Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League, and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League have been suspended.
"Play will be be suspended for, I believe, at least a couple of weeks," Dyas said Thursday. "During that period of time the Canadian Hockey League (which oversees all three leagues) will evaluate the situation. But we have been in discussions and we are continuing, at this point in time, to move forward with planning for the Memorial Cup."
"Everyone involved is, of course, aware of the severity of the pandemic and the fact that this is a very fluid situation," Dyas said. "We as a host community hope the tournament can still go ahead, for the excitement and the economic benefit it would bring to Kelowna, but certainly not at the risk of endangering anyone."
Paul Krotz, a spokesman for the 60-team Canadian Hockey League, said there could be specific news about the Memorial Cup as early as Friday.
Like other North American sports leagues, the Canadian Hockey League on Thursday announced an indefinite suspension of all major junior games because of the coronavirus. The decision was made in consultation with medical professionals, the CHL said.
The junior hockey leagues' regular season was to have ended later this month, followed by the playoffs. The three league champions, along with the host Kelowna Rockets are to contest the Memorial Cup in a round-robin tournament set for Kelowna from May 21 to May 31.
As a practical matter, the CHL's shutdown likely ends the regular season a few weeks prematurely. If it is declared safe enough to resume games in a few week's time, the playoffs would likely start immediately with match-ups set based on current league standings.
A shorter playoff format might have to be adopted to get it all done in time for the Memorial Cup in May,
"I think what the league really has to look at, with suspending play now, is what the playoffs will look like," Dyas said. "Those decisions, of course, will be made by the CHL."
So far, Dyas said, there's been no discussion about possibly playing the tournament later than its scheduled date: "We are still planning for the first game on May 21st . . . But we are still 10 weeks out and there could be substantial changes within the environment of this pandemic."
With the cancellation of games, communications and marketing campaigns related to the Memorial Cup will "slow down" for now, Dyas said.
Aside from the staging of the games at the 6,300-seat Prospera Place arena, Memorial Cup plans include an outdoor festival zone, a family zone, a concert and a display from the Hockey Hall of Fame. Total economic impact of the tournament was estimated at between $10 million and $15 million by city officials, who provided a $225,000 grant toward the event's staging.
The Memorial Cup has never been cancelled in its 101-year history.