PRINCETON, N.J. – As 13 teams continue preparations for the start of the 2020-21 ECHL season in less than a month, the other 11 teams scheduled to start on January 15, 2021 are facing an opt-in deadline of November 30.
Today, six of those teams gave their verdict.
The Adirondack Thunder, Brampton Beast, Maine Mariners, Newfoundland Growlers, Reading Royals, and Worcester Railers have opted out of the 2020-21 season, in an announcement made by the ECHL. They will join the Atlanta Gladiators and Norfolk Admirals on the sidelines for the upcoming season.
“As we continue to navigate the continually changing regulations across North America, we recognize the difficult nature of this decision,” said ECHL Commissioner Ryan Crelin. “While some of our teams’ host cities have allowed upcoming plans to include fans inside arenas, we, unfortunately, do not see the same path for these highly-affected areas in the Northeast.”
Brampton Beast head coach Spiros Anastas tells The Sin Bin the decision to opt-out together was done in a sign of solidarity:
“I think it was important for all the North Division teams to show solidarity in this decision,” Anastas said. “All six teams are located in areas with a more cautious approach to handling the pandemic. Because of that, our regions aren’t facing the insurmountable surges in cases that others are but it was clear that it was unlikely that the methods that have resulted in that would be changed anytime in the near future. Gathering and spectator restrictions and closed borders were the biggest factors [and] it was difficult to foresee either of those improving before the Spring.”
All players signed by the eight opt-out clubs are now unrestricted free agents but, they will be on the original team’s protected lists for the 2021-22 season, should they sign elsewhere.
Anastas told his group the news Monday night and describes the atmosphere:
“It was silent,” he said. “It was probably one of the toughest conversations I’ve have had with a group of players. Aside from a couple of questions by one of our team leaders and PHPA representative, there wasn’t much said. I think it will take some time to digest and I’ll be following up with all our guys over the next couple of weeks and hopefully having more in-depth conversations with them.”
The situation on the ground in many areas is becoming extremely serious, as hospitals become overwhelmed and health care systems are stretched to the max. As of Tuesday, the number of reported positive Coronavirus cases had exceeded 11.2 million and nearly a quarter-million people have died, according to data from the COVID-19 Tracking Project.
The DCU Center in Worcester will be used as a COVID-19 field hospital starting in early December. This is the second time the home of the Railers has been used as a field hospital. They treated over 160 patients during the initial surge earlier this year, before closing in late May.
Infections are up more than 115 percent in Pennsylvania in the last two weeks, forcing Governor Tom Wolf to enact similar restrictions on out-of-state travelers. Arenas with capacities less than 10-thousand are only allowed to have 25 people in them at one time, while arenas with capacities more than 10-thousand will be allowed 15 percent of their maximum occupancy, up to 7,500 people.
Cases are also surging in Maine, which has a cap of 50 people for all indoor gatherings and placed some restrictions on out-of-state travel.
The United States/Canadian border continues to remain closed, and likely will for the foreseeable future as cases continue to surge on the other side of the 49th Parallel.
For the remaining five teams that were to start on January 15, 2021; Cincinnati, Fort Wayne, Idaho, Kalamazoo, and Toledo, the deadline to opt-out comes in 12 days. Allen, Florida, Greenville, Indy, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Orlando, Rapid City, South Carolina, Tulsa, Utah, Wheeling, and Wichita all are scheduled to start play on December 11, 2020 and there has been no indication of that timetable being pushed back due to the latest surge in Coronavirus cases.
Stay with The Sin Bin as we continue to update this developing story.