WICHITA, Kan. – Just over 48 hours after postponing play due to the COVID-19 health emergency, the ECHL took the unprecedented step Saturday to shut down the remainder of its season.
According to multiple sources, player exit interviews and physicals will begin soon, then the players will return home. While play was suspended, the league stopped all practices and severely curtailed team meetings (just one meeting), and access to locker rooms to only those who were being treated for injuries.
According to Sara Civian of The Athletic, players will be paid through Monday and will have insurance through June 30.
Here is the statement from ECHL Commissioner, Ryan Crelin:
“The decision by the ECHL to cancel the remainder of the 2019-20 Season does not come lightly, as this is an emotional time for our Players, Coaches, Member Teams, Fans and Staff. At this point in the Season, there has been immense dedication and countless hours committed in moving towards what is traditionally the most exciting part of the hockey year.
With that said, however, as each passing day raises additional concerns for the safety of those in the ECHL community and as we take precautionary measures in conjunction with our local authorities across the continent to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, it has become apparent that this is the prudent decision. Our game and our product are based on our Fans and their ability to cheer on their favorite ECHL team and Players at one of our many facilities around the continent. Without that social environment and game atmosphere, the ECHL simply isn’t the same.
On behalf of the ECHL and our Board of Governors, we appreciate the Professional Hockey Players’ Association for their assistance during this unprecedented time and working as partners in hockey to reach this decision for the best interest of the ECHL and its Players. This decision allows our Players the opportunity to return to their homes and removes the uncertainty that currently exists.
While we are hopeful that this period ceases and an opportunity to return to normalcy for the hockey calendar presents itself, in the interim, we ask all Fans, Players, Coaches, Officials, and Staff to continue to abide by the measures put in place by their local authorities and follow precautionary protocols for their safety, as we will begin preparations for the 2020-21 ECHL Hockey Season.”
“It is very disappointing that our season had to end, but the safety of the fans, players and staff outweighs everything else,” said Wichita Thunder head coach Bruce Ramsay. “I was looking forward to finishing off the season at home and was excited in the direction the club was heading. I believe we have a bright future ahead of us with the nucleus of players we have on our roster. Next season starts today.”
The Sin Bin reached out to Wichita Thunder captain Riley Weselowski, who offered his thoughts on how this has transpired over the last several days.
“It is unfortunate for sure. This is obviously an unprecedented situation. I think what your seeing across all the social media platforms is that everyone has an opinion on what is happening. Most people have opinions on how things are being handled, but we have never really been in this situation.
“We have people in higher up positions that need to make some very tough decisions right now. And they will without a doubt be judged on the decisions that are being made now, somewhere down the road. These are tough calls. And I’m glad I’m not the one making them.
“People are going to be hurt financially because of the choices being made. Hopefully when we look back people feel like the right calls were made. I think the old saying ‘Better safe than sorry’ is very relevant right now. And that is the direction the leagues and organizations are going. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. And there is no way to know if it was the right thing to do until you are able to look back down the road, whether that’s a month, six months, or even years down the road. I guess we will find out eventually.”
“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” said Brampton Beast head coach Spiros Anastas. “So many people, from the front office staff to hockey operations to players put so much into an ECHL season. Many of us wear a lot of different hats at this level, so we’re deeply invested. It’s hard to see that work end like this without the opportunity to reach our ultimate goals. Most of all, I’m sorry for those whose careers might be ending this way, not just my guys, but all of them around the league. It’s tough to think that those guys aren’t going out on their own terms and I feel for them. At the end of the day, the health and safety of our fans, players, and staff are paramount. But, you can’t help but hurt a little about this news.”
The suspension of the season means there will be no Kelly Cup Playoffs and league champion awarded for the first time in ECHL history.
At the time of the suspension, the South Carolina Stingrays and Florida Everblades were at the top of the league with 92 points. In the Western Conference, the Allen Americans were having a solid bounce-back season, with 88 points and in the conference’s pole position.