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ECHL North Division teams suspend play for 2020-2021 season

ECHLThe six teams in the ECHL North DivisionAdirondack Thunder, Brampton Beast, Maine Mariners, Newfoundland Growlers, Reading Royals and Worcester Railers–are suspending play for the 2020-2021 season, but planning a return in 2021-2022.

The decision by the six ECHL North Division teams was made under the league’s COVID-19 Voluntary Suspension Policy. It was made in consultation with league officials and local health authorities; with it looking like few fans would be allowed into games and ECHL teams relying heavily on gate receipts for their revenues, the decision was made to shut things down. (The Atlanta Gladiators had already made the decision to suspend operations.)

“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.”

All players from the Adirondack Thunder, Brampton Beast, Maine Mariners, Newfoundland Growlers, Reading Royals and Worcester Railers are free agents for the 2020-21 season immediately. The move leaves the ECHL with 20 teams for the 2020-2021 season.

A typical response came from VP of Operations for the Maine Mariners, Danny Briere.

“We are saddened to have had to make this decision with our fellow division teams,” he said in a press release. “With the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19, the increasing rates in our region, and after consulting with local officials, we did not see a clear path toward hosting fans at Mariners games. We want to thank our fans for their passion and loyalty as we continue to navigate returning to the ice. The future for this franchise is bright, and we are already making exciting plans for the 2021-22 season.”

One team, however, may not end up returning in 2021-2022, as Dean MacDonald, Chair of Deacon Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Newfoundland Growlers, says he’ll take the time to reflect on the hockey club’s future in St. John’s pending the outcome of the potential sale and management of Mile One Centre.

“We invested in St. John’s by securing an ECHL franchise and committed to an affiliation agreement with the Toronto Maple Leafs after signing a Memorandum of Understanding with St. John’s Sports and Entertainment that stated we would manage the day-to-day operations of Mile One Centre,” MacDonald said in a press statement. “It was an important component of the Growlers business plan and was instrumental in cementing our relationship with the Maple Leafs, but unfortunately, we currently do not manage the building.”

The ECHL is launching its 2020-2021 season in stages, with 13 teams (Allen, Florida, Greenville, Indy, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Orlando, Rapid City, South Carolina, Tulsa, Utah, Wheeling and Wichita) beginning a 72-game season on December 11. The remaining ECHL teams (save the Atlanta Gladiators, sitting out the season) will begin their season on January 15, 2021, competing in a 62-game season upon jurisdictional approval.

RELATED STORIES: AHL shifts 2020-2021 start date to February

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