“We’re on the right side of this pandemic, in Canada at least, so we need to keep doing our part.”
That’s what Rocco Tullio, the Oshawa Generals owner, had to say when broached about the league mandating vaccines for all players, coaches, trainers, team and league staff, officials, volunteers, and billet families.
The QMJHL and WHL released similar guidelines for the upcoming season as well. A plan that will hopefully allow all three CHL leagues to play full seasons after a year of limited play – or no season in the OHL’s case.
“I agree with the steps that we have taken as a league to be proactive. The statistics are pretty glaring when you look at vaccinated vs. unvaccinated cases and the toll the virus takes on those unvaccinated,” Tullio mentioned.
It comes down to using the data provided by public health officials to educate players, coaches, and everyone else involved in the league’s day-to-day operations. The last 18 months have given players and their families time to educate themselves on the subject as well.
“Ninety-nine percent of our players and staff were great," Tullio said. "They understood what was at stake from a health and hockey perspective. The one percent that was a bit hesitant didn’t take much convincing once they understood what the facts that healthcare professionals have laid out over the last two years.”
Agents and player representatives are also dealing with a unique challenge. Advising players on the pandemic has been a challenge as the information and guidelines were constantly evolving as the public health officials learned about the virus and how to deal with it.
“There were leagues, teams, divisions, and conferences that had varying rules. It wasn't easy to provide the primary service that we provide, giving advice. There wasn't a single player at any level that didn't have some difficulty navigating national, state/provincial, and league rules in response to this virus.” mentioned John Osei-Tutu of Puck Agency, “We spent countless hours seeking accurate information and provided the best advice we could for each specific player.”
There are a variety of reasons why some players may be a bit hesitant to take the vaccine. One such case involved a U.S. college player who has a younger sibling with autism. His family, concerned about the effects of the vaccine on their family, was hesitant to take it before he ultimately decided to receive the vaccine.
When asked, Osei-Tutu mentioned that it is a difficult landscape to navigate when your job is to make sure the player is satisfied and playing at a competitive level of hockey to ensure that their future is as promising as possible.
“I think that it's each leagues' prerogative to do what it sees fit to ensure the health and safety of the players, staff, billets, and fans involved,” Osei-Tutu noted.
“That being said, with respect to our clients, we won't allow anyone to actively force them to vaccinate if they do not feel comfortable doing so. If that means getting creative and finding other playing opportunities domestically or overseas, we're going to do that.”
As for players, the response has been fairly positive as well with education having been an ongoing process. In the WHL, teams have been providing players the information they need to make their decisions throughout the pandemic.
“The team has been excellent throughout this mess," a WHL player said. "They’ve had us speak with doctors, nurses and other frontline workers at different times. It really helps put things into perspective.”
It has been a difficult time for everyone involved in hockey, sports, and society in general. With a global pandemic on a scale that no one alive has ever had to deal with running rampant, the sports world has found a way to persevere and adapt, much like the rest of the world has had to do.
One OHL player continuously mentioned that following the advice of experts is the right thing to do, which seems like the best course of action for everyone. He even offered up his own services should the tables ever turn.
“At the end of the day, we have to do what we have to do to make sure that we are all safe. Listen to the doctors because they are the experts here. When they want to learn to skate or shoot, maybe I can help with that.”