EVERETT — The coronavirus pandemic continues to play havoc with the WHL’s schedule, and as a result the Everett Silvertips’ 2021-22 season opener has been altered.
Everett will now open the season on Oct. 3 at Spokane. The Tips were originally scheduled to begin Oct. 2 at Kelowna.
The change is the result of the WHL announcing Wednesday that because of ongoing border restrictions preventing non-essential bus travel from Canada to the U.S., games in October for U.S. Division and B.C. Division teams will only be against divisional opponents. Games between U.S. and B.C. Division teams are scheduled to resume on Nov. 3.
This is just the latest alteration caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The WHL’s 2020-21 schedule was reduced to 24 games, with those games limited to divisional opponents, because of the pandemic. The league is back to playing a 68-game schedule in 2021-22, with play opened up within conferences, meaning Western Conference games between U.S. and B.C. Division foes are back on the schedule. However, that is now being pushed back.
“The border is still an issue, and we’re just working through all the eventual possibilities,” Everett chief operating officer Zoran Rajcic said. “The changes made now ensure we all have games in the month of October.”
Everett’s canceled game at Kelowna will not be made up. The Oct. 3 game at Spokane was added to the schedule to replace the Kelowna game and ensure the Tips have a game on the season’s opening weekend.
Everett is one of the Western Conference teams least affected by the schedule changes, as the game at Kelowna was the Tips’ only contest in October against a B.C. Division foe on the original schedule. In total, 17 games were scheduled between U.S. and B.C. teams in October.
The Tips’ preseason schedule, which opens this weekend with the Everett Silvertips Preseason Classic on Friday through Sunday at Angel of the Winds Arena, also is not affected, as all five preseason games are in the U.S. against U.S. Division opponents.
However, it’s not certain things will return to normal in November. In August the U.S. extended its border closure to Sept. 21 because of the continuing increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., and the government will need to make another decision as Sept. 21 approaches. Canada’s border with the U.S. has been open to non-essential travel since Aug. 9.
“We could still see more changes if things don’t improve (with the pandemic),” Rajcic said. “The past 18 months have been a challenging time to operate a sports franchise.”