The last time skates hit Canadian Hockey League ice was on March 11 with the final eight games of what would become a cancelled 2019-20 campaign.
172 days later the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League took the first stride towards a return to play with the opening of 2020-21 Training Camps.
No more than 34 players reported to each of the league’s 18 clubs on August 30 with preparations underway for an October 1 regular season.
From fresh ice in arenas to new equipment orders, the excitement of a season despite these unprecedented times has had many of our annual routines.
There has also been the need to adapt to a new normal with special COVID-19 protocols in place such as mandatory face masks that have certainly given 2020 training camps a new identity.
But on the ice is where hockey players are most comfortable and the opportunity to be together as teammates was a welcome opportunity for veterans and rookies alike.
Roster solidification is part of any training camp process and there were some notable fresh faces including second overall CHL Import Draft pick Jan Bednar who has officially committed to the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, and highly touted 2021 NHL Draft prospect Peter Reynolds who just recently joined the Saint John Sea Dogs.
This season’s overage class is the 2000 birth year and some teams, like the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, have already confirmed their 20-year-old trio.
Welcoming back players, in some cases, has also required some adaptation given the current state of the pandemic. Russian forward Mikhail Abramov of the Victoriaville Tigres, for example, has returned to his club but will be in a two-week quarantine before officially joining his teammates.
And as the hockey world awaits the 2020 NHL Draft and the early selection of projected first overall pick Alexis Lafreniere, the two-time CHL Player of the Year continues to train in Montreal as the Rimouski Oceanic prepare for a season without their captain.
There are also five new faces in charge behind the bench as the exhibition season begins. The two most recent hires include Jean-Francois Gregoire leading the Baie-Comeau Drakkar, and another August hire in Ron Choules of the Shawinigan Cataractes.
Earlier this off-season the Sea Dogs named Greg Gilbert their new head coach, while Louis Robitaille left Victoriaville for the Gatineau Olympiques and was replaced by Carl Mallette.
A total of 51 exhibition games are scheduled as part of the QMJHL’s Pre-Season wrapping up on September 26. A regular season schedule is still to be announced however teams will compete in three divisions of six teams based on geography.
The Ontario Hockey League and Western Hockey League seasons are scheduled to begin in December.