The Ontario Hockey League (OHL) is the latest sporting venture to feel the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The league has advised teams, including the North Bay Battalion, on some new practices to avoid spreading germs with others, including:

  • Access to dressing rooms and member team facilities be limited to players, coaches and support staff only
  • Media access to be held in designated areas outside dressing rooms
  • Elimination of handshakes between teammates, opponents, officials
  • No sharing of water bottles or towels on benches or penalty box areas
  • Avoiding direct contact with fans, including high-fives, handshakes, and autographing of items

With the OHL draft coming up in less than a month, COVID-19 presents a challenge to Battalion General Manager, Adam Dennis.

“We basically follow their [the league’s] directive,” Dennis explained. “Unfortunately there is going to be a lot of things that we want to do in terms of community outreach, in terms of recruiting and showing off our building that we won’t be able to do.”

“Things like the fist-bumps coming out [with the fans], unfortunately, we are going to have to cease those until we get further direction from the league,” he continued. “It’s obviously something we take seriously and we want to make sure the safety of our players is at the forefront.”

“It’s nice that they’re going to be looking out for us,” said Shane Bulitka, one of the veteran players. “Nothing changes, guys are going to have to practice good hygiene and good habits.”

In the NHL, teams like the San Jose Sharks and Philadelphia Flyers have been facing a reality of playing games without fans in attendance as both areas have been advised against holding events with more than 1,000 people. While not quite there yet, the OHL could follow suit.

“It definitely would change the atmosphere of the game but the goal is still the same,” Bulitka said. “We have to come ready to play.”

“It doesn’t change the blue lines, the red lines, the nets, the ice is still cold,” Dennis agreed. “Outside of the atmosphere, I don’t think it changes much for the hockey players. It has happened before, and for a bulk of our guys, we’re a young team, so they didn’t have many fans in the seats last year anyways.”

As someone who played in the league, Dennis says some of the precautions were already in place before COVID-19.

“One player gets the flu, you don’t want seven players getting the flu,” he said. “There are things you have to put in place right from the forefront. There are things we have that we have locked up tighter based on suggestions from the league and we will continue to do so as we get updated.”