Senators, Leafs can play at home this season amid COVID-19 pandemic, province announces

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The Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs will be able to play at home this season despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ontario government announced Thursday.

In a statement, Lisa MacLeod, the minister of heritage, sport, tourism and culture, said the approval was granted after "close scrutiny of the rigorous health and safety protocols that will be adopted to keep players, staff and our communities safe from the spread of COVID-19."

MacLeod said the decision was made after meetings with Ontario's chief medical officer of health along with top public health officials in Toronto and Ottawa.

She said she is looking forward to rebuilding confidence in minor sports after the pandemic.

The National Hockey League said on Dec. 24 it believed it was free to play in Canada after discussions with health authorities, but the provinces with NHL franchises needed to give their approval.

Carlos Osorio/Getty Images
Carlos Osorio/Getty Images

Nearly two weeks ago, Ontario went under a provincewide shutdown because of concerning trends in COVID-19 figures, that continue to worsen.

"We are thankful to have the approval of all government branches and health authorities to begin our season at Scotiabank Arena," said Maple Leafs General Manager Kyle Dubas in a statement Thursday.

"We understand that these are very challenging times for our health systems, local businesses and the community at large."

In the statement, the Leafs announced details of its Blue vs. White Game, which will be held at the Scotiabank Arena on Saturday at 7 p.m.

"Though we will not be permitted to host fans at our games, we wanted to be able to include our fans in every way that we can, including our training camp festivities and the Blue vs White Game on Saturday night," said Dubas.

The seven Canadian teams will be grouped in one division and only play each other for the duration of the 56-game schedule, which is slated to begin Jan. 13, 10 days before the lockdown is scheduled to lift in Toronto and Ottawa.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are scheduled to host the Montreal Canadiens, while the Edmonton Oilers are slated to face the visiting Vancouver Canucks as part of a five-game schedule on opening night.

Manitoba is now the lone province not to grant final approval.

However, acting deputy chief public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal said Wednesday that Manitoba is "confident things will move ahead as planned" during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Quebec, B.C. and Alberta have already given their respective teams approval to play at home.