David Branch on cancelling the Memorial Cup: ‘We had to respond in the right way’

For the first time in the tournament’s 102 year history, the Memorial Cup will not be played.

The Canadian Hockey League made the announcement Monday, that the remainder of the 2019-20 season has been cancelled. David Branch, OHL Commissioner, says the three leagues that comprise the CHL came to the decision, after monitoring the current situation surrounding COVID-19.

“It was an easy decision to arrive at in my view given everything that was coming at us,” said Branch.

“We had to consider what’s in the best interest of our players and their families, in terms of safety and well being, and an extension to that is our fans and their communities.”

Given the troubling state of our global climate and public welfare, Branch says there is still too much risk and uncertainty to move forward with the rest of the season.

“We had to respond in the right way. I commend our owners in supporting the closure of the season like they did,” said Branch.

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“The overriding factor is what’s right, what’s best, and we had to make the best decision, and now our focus is to help the healing process going forward.”

Branch admits that the decision may be tremendously disappointing for some players and fans, especially for teams who were gearing up for a playoff run.

One of those teams was the London Knights, who were first place in the Western Conference when the season abruptly came to an end.

General Manager Mark Hunter says although the decision is disappointing, it’s necessary.

“We all got to take our precautions and be safe,” said Hunter, stressing that the safety of players and fans is paramount. “Yeah we’re all disappointed, but we’re worried about moving ahead here too, and making sure we can get this thing turned around and get back to normal life.”

For now, Hunter and other general managers are preparing for next month’s draft, which is still scheduled for April 4. Branch says they are making sure they “have the technical requirements in place, and meet all government requirements” in order to go through with the draft remotely.

As for the 2021 Memorial Cup, plans are still in place for an OHL market to host the tournament. Branch says they are finalizing the process to award it to either Sault Ste. Marie or Oshawa.

There will be no OHL champion this season, no Memorial Cup champ, but Branch insists that the league will find a way to give its graduating players a proper send-off.

“Something that is really bothersome to our league is that we really didn’t have the right opportunity to say good-bye to some very important players in our league, our overage players who won’t be returning, other players who will pursue their professional hockey aspirations,” said Branch.

“That’s hurtful, that’s bothersome, but it’s still a small price to pay when you look at the big picture here, that we all work to overcome the challenges we have with this COVID-19 virus.”

The CHL originally suspended play on March 12 amid the coronavirus pandemic and followed up by cancelling the remainder of the regular season last Wednesday. At the time the league said in a statement it was its “hope that the event will continue as scheduled.”

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