PORTLAND, Maine – The Maine Mariners are slated to begin their 2020-21 campaign on or around January 15th, 2021. This is a little over two months from now, but in a world where nothing is normal, uncertainty still looms about the Mariners and the rest of the ECHL. For some 13 teams, the season will hypothetically begin on December 11th of this year.
While the Mariners have signed players, as they rightfully should, the AHL has announced that the anticipated start date of their season is February 5th, according to this press release. This, in turn, could be great for the Mariners, as the Wolf Pack and the Rangers could both siphon talent down to the ECHL level for more experience and an earlier ‘preseason,’ if you will. Likewise, other teams would likely send talent down to the ECHL, too. Take the Newfoundland Growlers, for example, whose roster typically is comprised mostly of players on deals with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.
Of course, when the AHL season starts, many teams would lose a bunch of players to the AHL level and NHL camps (whenever that is supposed to be) – the Mariners included. However, an influx of young talent is always great to see develop, as opposed to being kept off the ice.
As much as everyone would like to see everything start on time, with fans filling seats, there is a lot of speculation around whether or not teams will be able to play this upcoming season, at all. And, not just in the ECHL. This goes for the ECHL, AHL, and NHL.
The pandemic at hand, with its unpredictability in how fast it spreads, coupled with the policies of state, provincial, and federal governments, has put public entertainment events, like hockey games, in constant limbo.
For Maine, especially, when many thought that ‘we’ were turning a corner earlier at the end of October/beginning of November, the pandemic threw a wrench in the plan of getting hockey up and going again, and so did the governor. In a recent November 1 press release directly from Governor Janet Mills, it says, “Effective Wednesday, November 4, indoor gatherings will return to a maximum of 50 people, regardless of capacity.”
Essentially, in two months, this state must revert its increasing cases, and fast, for the Mariners to have fans in the seats, and ultimately, a season. Monday, the Portland Press Herald published that, “The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported Monday morning 204 new cases on Sunday.” This is the highest amount of single-day new cases in the state. Three afternoon media briefings have been scheduled for this week, and if the indoor capacity limit of 50 gets smaller, the Mariners may be up against a wall with decisions to make regarding the season, itself.
Via News Center Maine, the Mills administration also released a checklist for getting community sports going during a COVID-19 winter, but it’s unclear how that will change the fan experience, or whether or not fans will even be allowed in attendance. With the current 50-person limit for indoor capacity, Vice President of Business Operations for the Mariners, Adam Goldberg, was cited as saying that ‘Mariners games will look a lot different but the team is working to provide as much of a normal experience as possible.’
It seems that the Mariners do have plans in mind, either way, as their advertised ticket packages give the choice of tickets to the 2020-21 season or the 2021-22 season. With two teams having already voluntarily stepped out of this upcoming season (Atlanta, Norfolk), it wouldn’t be out of the question for Maine, unfortunately.
Finally, though Pfizer did indeed announce that a vaccine for COVID-19 has been tested and reached 90% effectiveness, the Washington Post made it clear despite the news that, “The United States surpassed 10 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus Monday, a milestone that has deepened fears among health experts that the nation is heading into winter with an unmitigated spread that could mean the most dangerous phase of the pandemic is here.” That phase seems to be catching Maine off-guard.
Mariners fans – you may want to prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and keep following public and private rules pertaining to masks and social distancing. To get this season up and going for the Mariners, it’s going to have to be a group effort.
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