Lukenda: Staging Cup ‘might be difficult’  

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For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic brought three postponements to the Ontario Hockey League season, Soo Greyhounds president Tim Lukenda is expressing doubt about the viability of the 2021 Memorial Cup.

While stressing “these are solely my views,” Lukenda used the words “challenging” and “realistic,” while discussing the impact the coronavirus has had on Major A hockey in the province and the possibility the pandemic may keep the prestigious tournament from being staged for a second consecutive season.

“We have to be realistic,” Lukenda, who sits on the executive committee of the OHL’s board of governors, said in an interview with The Sault Star. “Given the timing and the fact each of the three leagues are on different schedules and the number of games played and all of those things, I foresee it might be difficult” to play the Memorial Cup.

The Greyhounds majority owner also spoke of how “realistically, it would be challenging this year to bring everything together for a national championship.”

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However, Lukenda also noted: “I haven’t ruled it out or given up hope entirely. We remain very, excited about the prospect of the Sault hosting the Memorial Cup.”

He went on to say he believes, if chosen, the city would do “a fantastic job” of playing host to the four-team tourney, which brings together a host team and champions from the OHL, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and Western Hockey League (WHL).

The 2021 event was originally scheduled to begin on May 21, 2021. In a December press release, which announced the third postponement to the regular season, the league bumped the Memorial Cup’s start date back to mid-June.

As host-city finalists, the Sault and Oshawa were originally slated to make formal presentations to the 2021 Memorial Cup Site Selection Committee last Apr. 14 in Toronto.

Those meetings were postponed and have yet to be rescheduled.

“Nothing, clearly nothing, has been decided” about the fate of the Memorial Cup, Lukenda added.

He spoke about the league’s focus on efforts to find a way to begin the regular season.

To that end, on Friday, Lisa MacLeod, Ontario Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries delivered bad news to the OHL.

MacLeod said David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer, did not find the league’s most-recent proposal met the standards for a return to play.

“We are looking for ways to enable the OHL to come back to the game – possibly with bubble towns – in the hope that there will be hockey before the NHL draft,” MacLeod said in an interview with Radio Canada. “We’re working around the clock to figure out how to get there.” MacLeod went on to note how “we know how the OHL is important for the cultural fabric of this province.”

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