The Silvertips’ Gage Goncalves (left) and Bryce Kindopp celebrate a goal during a game against the Thunderbirds on March 8, 2020, at ShoWare Center in Kent. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The Silvertips’ Gage Goncalves (left) and Bryce Kindopp celebrate a goal during a game against the Thunderbirds on March 8, 2020, at ShoWare Center in Kent. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

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Hockey is back! Start date for Silvertips’ regular season set

The WHL announces Friday afternoon that the U.S. Division can begin play on March 19.

The Everett Silvertips have the green light to return to the ice.

The Western Hockey League announced Friday that the U.S. Division will begin its regular season on March 19.

The Silvertips’ regular season will consist exclusively of games between the other four U.S. Division teams — the Seattle Thunderbirds, Spokane Chiefs, Tri-City Americans and Portland Winterhawks. The schedule will be announced later, according to the WHL’s press release.

“We’ve made progress one day at a time to be creative with opportunities to allow our players to return while relentlessly pursuing safety measures to avoid COVID-19 and its spread,” Silvertips governor Zoran Rajcic said in a written statement. “The board of governors within the U.S. Division have taken a massive and cooperative step forward to get the season in full gear, to the best of our abilities.”

The WHL’s release said no spectators will be allowed to enter league facilities.

“We remain committed to our fans and their eventual return to see Silvertips hockey up close,” Rajcic said, “and look forward to providing the most optimal environment for our players to advance their opportunities for professional development.

“Our fans remain such an important part of us and over the next several weeks, we expect to share important updates intended to refresh our lines of engagement. For now, we’re going to return to play, and those are words we’ve longed to share.”

After an original target start date of Sept. 25, the WHL pushed back its season four times because of the coronavirus pandemic. The latest delay was announced in December and didn’t include a target start date.

The WHL said Friday’s announcement followed an update from Washington state on Monday that allows the league to return to play within the state.

Last week, Rajcic confirmed chatter about the Portland Winterhawks potentially basing their team in Vancouver, Washington, to remove the complications of having U.S. Division teams in multiple states.

“The WHL has developed an extensive set of protocols to not only provide a safe environment for players and staff, but to protect residents of Washington State in the community,” the WHL’s release said. “Further details on these protocols will be announced at a later date.”

Friday’s announcement came eight days after the WHL announced that its five Alberta-based Central Division teams were granted approval by the province’s government to return to play. Those five teams are slated to play a division-only 24-game slate beginning on Feb. 26.

No announcements have been made yet about the WHL’s other two divisions — the B.C. Division and the East Division. Those two divisions include teams from British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

While no announcement regarding a potential postseason has been made official, Rajcic said last week it was unlikely the WHL would be able to hold any playoffs. The Memorial Cup is currently scheduled for June in Ontario, Canada.

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