Connor McMichael’s rollercoaster 2020-21 season finally has some certainty. McMichael, who has played for three different teams this season, will not be playing for a fourth.
Tuesday, the Ontario Hockey League announced that it was ending its return to play and officially canceled its 2020-21 season. With McMichael in his age 19 season, the center was still technically the property of the OHL’s London Knights.
Now, McMichael’s junior hockey career is officially over.
OHL Announces End of Return to Play Plans for 2020-21 Season
Toronto, Ont. – Earlier this month the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and the Government of Ontario reached an agreement on a Return to Play plan for the League. However, the recently extended stay at home order along with increasing cases of COVID-19 across the province make it impossible for the OHL to have a season.
“We have worked tirelessly with the Province and the Chief Medical Officer of Health for the past year on different scenarios and different windows of opportunity but the reality is the conditions in Ontario have never been right to start and complete an uninterrupted, safe opportunity for players to showcase their skills,” said OHL Commissioner David Branch. “We owe it to our players and their families to be definitive. We were committed to return and play this season, but our hopes and desires have been dashed by the cruel realities of COVID-19.”
Just a few short weeks ago, the League and Province had reached an agreement on the OHL Return to Play plan but on the eve of announcing any details, COVID-19 conditions worsened dramatically as new variants of concern took hold and posed a significant threat to overwhelm the health care system. The plan envisioned a shortened season to be played in hub cities following the most rigorous COVID-19 containment protocols possible. The goal was to showcase the League’s 450 players for scouts preparing for the 2021 NHL Draft, U SPORTS men’s hockey programs as well as Hockey Canada’s World Junior Summer Evaluation Camp.
“Ontario has the strongest health restrictions of any jurisdiction in North America and we understood that this would make a return to play scenario extremely difficult,” added Commissioner Branch. “The openness the Premier, Minister Lisa MacLeod, the Office of the Chief Medical Officer and key staff have afforded us has not gone unnoticed and is greatly appreciated. We all agree that providing certainty for our players and families, even if it is not the answer they would want to hear, is the right thing for everyone’s health and safety and for the mental health challenges faced by many of our young players.”
The CHL and the NHL have an agreement where a drafted junior player must either play in the NHL or return to its Canadian junior team until the players’ eligibility ends (age 20 season), meaning they cannot play in the AHL during that time. McMichael, the Capitals’ first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, spent his age 18 season with the OHL’s London Knights under former Capitals player Dale Hunter. He was likely to do so against this year until the pandemic made things wacky.
A message from London Knights ownership on the cancellation of the 2020-2021 season. pic.twitter.com/5P8YbtxWNI
— London Knights (@LondonKnights) April 21, 2021
McMichael’s first real action of the 2019-20 season was when he reported to Team Canada for the 2021 World Junior Championship. McMichael was named an alternate captain for the Canadians and centered the team’s first line. Canada would go on to win a silver medal after winning gold with McMichael a year before.
After the tournament ended, Connor flew to Washington, quarantined, and joined the Capitals at the end of training camp. McMichael would make his NHL debut against the Buffalo Sabres on January 24 before spending the rest of his NHL time on the Caps’ taxi sqad. Once the Hershey Bears’ training camp started up in late January, general manager Brian MacLellan assigned McMichael to the AHL. With the OHL season still shuttered, the AHL was allowed to accept teenagers from the CHL.
McMichael flourished with the chocolate and white and leads the team with 10 goals and 16 points. In March, McMichael made it known that he did not watn to leave the team.
“I honestly want to stay here and just play pro hockey,” McMichael said then. “I think it would be best for my development, but if I do go back to London I’ll have to take the things that I learned here back there and try and keep those going, try and take the pro hockey experience back and keep playing the same way.”
Brian MacLellan echoed McMichael’s opinion when asked last week about what the Capitals might do if the OHL re-starts up again.
“I think we’d prefer him in Hershey,” MacLellan said.” I think it’s a perfect spot for him right now. He’s playing top-six minutes, power play. He’s getting good experience against older players and playing pro. He’s learning. He’s getting better. The rules would dictate if the OHL starts up, he would have to go back unless the team said, ‘We’re good. You can stay.’ The team would have to give us permission to keep him in Hershey. If they start up and he goes back, we’re okay with that.”
Instead, McMichael will finish the year with Hershey and depending on if the AHL holds a postseason or not, he may return to the Capitals as a black ace for the second straight NHL postseason.
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