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WLA announces delay to 2020 season

Condensed schedule part of contingency plan as leagues set sights on a September Mann Cup
NW Salmonbellies
The New Westminster Salmonbellies' start to the 2020 Western Lacrosse Association season has been delayed due to the COVID-19 virus. The league has put together a couple of alternative schedules, in coordination with the Ontario senior A circuit, with an eye on holding the Mann Cup in its familiar September time frame.

With an eye on protecting its Mann Cup options, the Western Lacrosse Association announced Tuesday that it has officially delayed the start of the 2020 indoor lacrosse season.

Scheduled to begin May 21, with New Westminster hosting Maple Ridge, the start date is now in limbo due to the COVID-19 health pandemic.

League governors decided to postpone the start, and officials with both the WLA and Major Series Lacrosse of Ontario are working together with an aim of having a Mann Cup championship series between the two leagues in September, hosted by Ontario.

Everything hinges on Canadian and provincial health officials ending the state of emergency, which has closed all community facilities and put a ban on large gatherings.

“Our intention is to play a full season but we have alternately drafted a few proposals that give us options should the situation not permit (a regular length schedule),” WLA commissioner Paul Dal Monte said in an interview with the Record on Tuesday. “We have drafted two alternative schedules, with playoff options, and aligned in lock-step with the MSL.”

When they receive the all-clear from health officials to open shuttered community facilities and permit public gatherings, municipal schedulers will be inundated with requests for floor time from the minor sports and recreation sports user groups, as well. That would also require some coordinating on a local standpoint, Dal Monte said.

The WLA governors are slated to meet again on April 11 to review their options. Dal Monte said the focus is on preparing for a possible spring startup that could facilitate a condensed schedule and playoffs and a September Mann Cup tournament.

“Obviously we all want to start the season soon,” New West Salmonbellies general manager Ray Porcellato said. “This is unprecedented, and everyone needs to follow (health officials) instructions. The goal is to have a season and playoffs leading to a Mann Cup. It’s going to be a challenge, as (most) Ontario teams play second or third fiddle to junior hockey in regards to their arenas.”

With Ontario slated to host the Mann Cup championship and as a number of the competitive teams there share their arenas with Ontario Hockey League clubs, postponing the national series past mid-September would be a challenge.

“In arenas where a number of Ontario teams play, junior hockey takes precedent, like in Peterborough,” noted Dal Monte. “But the Mann Cup is the Mann Cup, so we’ll have to see.”

The WLA regular season usually sees teams play each other three times in an 18-game schedule, for a total of 63 games. If the league reduced to a home-and-home series each, it would result in a 12-game schedule per team, for 42 league games.

Porcellato said he’s been in contact with the ‘Bellie players and says they are working out in anticipation of an eventual start to the season.

“They’re Instagramming each other with push-up challenges, staying home and doing what they can,” he noted. “I guess if there’s any benefit to this, the guys who play pro (in the National Lacrosse League) are getting a chance to heal up, rest and recuperate.”

The Ontario league has not announced a postponement to its schedule as of Tuesday, but released a statement that extends the ban on all in-person lacrosse activities to May 15, pending further provincial directives. The MSL was slated to launch May 31 and run until July 30, with the league playoffs running through August.

With both leagues working together in mapping out various options for condensed regular seasons and playoffs, Porcellato said his squad is all-in for however the 2020 season is drawn up.

“We will be ready to go, right to the bitter end until a Mann Cup is not feasible,” he said. “We plan on being there, even if it’s a one-game winner take-all.”