The Ford government has given the go-ahead for the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs to play home games in their respective arenas when the new NHL season gets underway.
The two teams are set to play in an all-Canadian division when the NHL season starts Jan. 13.
The league and its teams are set to play an abbreviated 56-game season and has realigned its divisions in order to limit travel during the pandemic, especially as the Canadian border remains closed.
Lisa MacLeod, the Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries says the approval was granted after close scrutiny of the rigorous health and safety protocols that have been adopted to keep players, staff, and communities safe from the spread of COVID-19.
“I look forward to continued work with both the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Ottawa Senators on a public relations campaign to warn Ontarians against the spread of COVID-19 and to rebuild confidence in minor sports post pandemic,” she said in a statement.
However, at around the same time her announcement was made public, Dr. David Williams – the province’s top doctor – seemed unaware of MacLeod’s statement.
“We are assessing that at this time, we have not made a final decision [but] it’s getting very close,” he said during his daily provincial update. “I haven’t signed off on it at this time.”
The decision comes as the province of Ontario is currently in a lockdown which prevents minor hockey organizations from getting together and playing games.
The federal government gave the start of training camps a thumbs up and also waived the 14-day quarantine rule under “national interest grounds” in favour of a modified plan for players and team staff returning to the country.
The Maple Leafs are set to start the season at home against the Montreal Canadiens on opening night while the Senators will play host to the Maple Leafs two nights later on Jan. 15.
British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec have already given approval for their respective teams while Manitoba has yet to officially clear the Winnipeg Jets to play at home, but has expressed confidence they will be able to.
Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report