WHL Commissioner Ron Robison joined The Rod Pedersen Show’s Darren Dupont for a Q&A on Friday’s announcement of a Regina hub centre for the East Division’s Return To Play beginning with games March 12. Here’s the transcript:
DD: Is this your first Instagram Live interview?
RR: This is my first Instagram Live interview. No better place to do it than The Rod Pedersen Show!
DD: How are you doing?
RR: Well I’m hanging in there. Absolutely. We’re pretty busy obviously. All our staff are working round-the-clock trying to get our players back on the ice and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish. It’s been a full shift for everybody.
DD: Congratulations! How did you get to today’s announcement with the East Division Return To Play hub centre in Regina?
RR: Virtually when our season was cancelled last year in March, we started in April working on a Return To Play strategy. We began discussions with the health authorities in each of the six jurisdictions – the four western provinces and two states – starting last May and June. It’s been an ongoing process getting to this stage we’re in now where we’ve got three out of four divisions playing and establishing dates for them to begin play. That’s been our objective all along.
DD: What’s it going to look like in Regina?
RR: Well it’s our only hub centre right now. We are in discussion in BC about a similar model but this will be a 7-team full East Division centre which all the teams will be housed at the University of Regina residences and playing out of the Brandt Centre. The Brandt Centre of course has a significant capability of hosting and has the capacity to house seven teams along with the Cooperators Centre for practices. It’s an ideal facility from the standpoint of delivering what we need to deliver which is a lot of games in a short period of time.
DD: BC becomes the next one. What’s up there?
RR: We’ve been having ongoing discussions on a weekly basis with all the health authorities, including BC, and they’ve been very receptive. BC’s just at a different stage, quite frankly, than the other provinces are. A different process as well. We’re hopeful we’ll get there soon and continue those discussions around what it might look like. We have two models really in play. The Central Division, we’re underway February 26 with a traditional travel schedule with all our protocols involved. The U.S. Division begins March 17 with a similar traditional travel schedule. It looks like a hub in BC and a hub in Regina for the East Division teams.
DD: What’s the reaction been like to today’s news?
RR: Very positive. First of all the parents and players, especially the players, have been very patient. This has been very difficult on them, and we understand that. We really felt that it was important that we found a way to play this year in one form or another. We’ve been working constantly and we’ve had a lot of false starts, as you know. We thought we were going to start in October and that didn’t work. Then it was January … I forget how many we’ve gone through. The objective all along was to get a season for our players. And I give our owners a lot of credit. This has been very difficult with no fans and no ticket revenue. And we’re doing this with no fans at the end of the day, but I think everybody recognizes the importance of getting development in place for our players.
DD: Fans are excited!
RR: Well there will be a lot of players going into quarantine this weekend. I’ve never known of anybody excited to do that but the players are very excited to, because that’s the first stage of returning to play. We’re gonna be on the ice in the Central Division real quickly. I’m sure the players are very excited and everybody in our league is excited to get watching some more hockey real soon.
DD: It hasn’t been easy for the families…
RR: Not it hasn’t. There’s been a lot of training without any indication of when the season is going to start. That’s difficult on any player. Now that we’ve got some certainty around a start date, they can focus on getting ready and they’ll be very anxious to get going. To our teams, they’ve done an exceptional job of being patient as well but preparing for this. But there’s still a lot of work left.
DD: Will there will be playoffs?
RR: We’re really focused on just the regular season right now. We don’t know what the conditions would be in a couple months. Right now we’re set on a 24-game regular season schedule in all four divisions and we want to accomplish that first. If the conditions improve, we can certainly keep that door open. But right now we don’t have any expectation of going much beyond our regular season. We can’t really put together a championship because of the cross-border challenges with the U.S. border so consequently we’re focused on the four divisions and making that as exciting as possible.
DD: Will the games be broadcast?
RR: Well we’re very excited about a new streaming service we’re going to be announcing soon. We’ve been working with a new partner on that and it’s one of the things we’ve been committed to in a very lengthy off-season. Our teams are looking forward to providing an excellent platform for our fans. Unfortunately our fans won’t be able to watch the games in-person but I feel the new streaming service is going to be exceptional and we’re looking forward to that being part of this season. All the information will be at WHL.ca.
DD: How much has the NHL played a role in this?
RR: The NHL’s been very supportive of every level of hockey attempting to get back on ice and I really credit their leadership, going back to the two bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I think that really demonstrated to the health authorities an ability to deliver hockey in a safe environment. And then of course the World Juniors at Christmas sort of put an exclamation mark on that. In confirmed that it’s low-risk generally and I think that led to the productive discussion we had with Saskatchewan about bringing a hub centre to Regina.
DD: What are the chances of a Memorial Cup in June?
RR: Well, one step at a time. The main thing is getting back on the ice and playing games for real. There’s certain challenges with the Memorial Cup. We all want the Memorial Cup to be played and a championship to be awarded but there’s some real challenges in front of us of course with the cross-border issue, as I mentioned earlier. How would we handle the travel restrictions not only out-of-country, but across the country? Those are things we’re continuing to look at. We haven’t eliminated anything at this particular stage. We keep all options open and I think in the coning few weeks or so we’ll have some announcements in that regard.
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