NHL: June target for return to ice in small group training plan

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Columbus Blue Jackets

TORONTO (Reuters) - North America's National Hockey League inched closer to resuming play with the release of coronavirus health and safety protocols that allow players to return to clubs for small-group workouts.

The NHL laid out a detailed Phase Two return-to-play plan in a 22-page document sent to teams and players on Sunday, while stressing that player participation is "strictly voluntary".

While the NHL said it was targeting an early June opening of training facilities, it cautioned that it had not yet set a precise date and did not know how long Phase Two would last.

When facilities do open the plan stipulates that a maximum of six players can participate in on-ice workouts at one time, with no coaches or team personnel on the ice.

Players will have to wear face masks when entering and leaving the facility and when social distancing cannot be maintained, except when they are exercising or on the ice.

All players returning to their teams from other countries will also have to adhere to self-quarantine guidelines.

Like other North American sports, the NHL was forced into a mid-March shutdown by the coronavirus pandemic and has since been exploring ways to get players back on the ice.

Last week ,the NHL Players Association (NHLPA) executive board voted in principal to approve a 24-team format that would determine the winner of the Stanley Cup.

The NHLPA cautioned that several details still had to be negotiated and any deal "would still be subject to the parties reaching agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play".


(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Alexander Smith)