WHL will play, but Winterhawks season remains in jeopardy

Phase 3 guidelines mean the team cannot play with a mandatory crowd
By Cliff Pfenning, oregonsports.com

There are some amazing challenges facing the teams in the US Division of the Western Hockey League these days, even on top of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Portland, for starters, the Winterhawks are still for sale, having been put on the block by owner Bill Gallacher mostly because he's in Canada and there's no crossing the border these days. 

In Seattle, the Thunderbirds now play in a market soon-to-be dominated by the NHL-expansion Kraken - due to begin play in October 2021.

And scheduling, well, it's a major stumbling block because none of the five teams can guarantee they'll be able to host a crowd, and the league has mandated games must be played before fans. Currently, strict guidelines for events being played before fans, from pro to college to prep, are nowhere near being met in either Oregon or Washington.

Oregon recently allowed for skating rinks to re-open in the Portland area last week, so the Winterhawks can practice. But, the league has stated it will begin play on Jan. 8 of 2021, which is slightly more than two months away. Canadian teams can play before limited crowds.

All of the US Division games would be played among its five teams.

The Hawks, led by No. 13 overall NHL draft pick Seth Jarvis, were atop the league standings when the 2019-20 season came to an abrupt close in March. It was shortly thereafter that Gallacher, a Calgary, Canada-based investor who has owned the team since 2008, allowed the team to go into bankruptcy after defaulting on several loans rather than handle the forthcoming financial problems caused by the pandemic. Heading into November, the team has yet to find a new owner.

Portland's four division rivals all play in Washington (Seattle, Everett, Tri-Cities and Spokane), and nine of the past 11 league championship series have involved have involved one of them. All five were among the top 10 teams in attendance within the league last season.

This is a developing story.