Canada approves NHL camps, but provinces must rule on games on their own.

OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) — The Canadian government, citing “national interest grounds,” gave its approval Thursday for the start of NHL training camps. It issued an exemption to the mandatory 14-day quarantine period for NHL players and team staff to return to the country.

The five provinces with NHL franchises, however, must give their approval for games between Canadian teams during the regular season, which is scheduled to start Jan. 13. The seven Canadian teams will play in a new North Division.

Alberta became the first province to say the NHL can play games in its arenas. The provincial government told The Canadian Press on Thursday it approved Edmonton and Calgary following a review of protocols outlined in the league’s return-to-play plan, along with additional enhancements.

The Manitoba government said discussions about hosting games in Winnipeg are proceeding. Dr. Jazz Atwal, acting deputy chief provincial public health officer, called it a “solid plan,” with only paperwork to be done.

The Public Health Agency of Canada said the league’s plan for the preseason offers “robust measures to mitigate the risk of importation and spread of COVID-19 in Canada.” All provinces with NHL clubs have provided written support for the plan.

The statement added that all teams must operate within provincial rules for regular-season play.

A week ago, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the league believes it can play in all seven Canadian markets — Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver

The Canadian teams will play each other only during the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs. They also won’t cross the U.S.-Canada border, which remains closed to nonessential travel.

The Ottawa Senators were one of seven clubs across the 31-team league to start training camp Thursday after not qualifying for the playoffs as part of the restart to the pandemic-halted 2019-20 season. The other six Canadian teams are to open training camp Sunday or Monday.

This past summer, the federal government cleared the Toronto Blue Jays to train at Rogers Centre, also under “national interest grounds.” But it rejected a proposal for home games against teams from the U.S. The Blue Jays eventually settled on Buffalo, New York, as their 2020 base.

The only Canadian professional sports teams to play on home soil during the pandemic have been the six NHL clubs to qualify for the 2019-20 post-season in Toronto and Edmonton, along with Toronto FC, the Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps of MLS.

The soccer teams were cleared to take part a series of games against each other in August and September before relocating to the U.S. to face American opponents.