Wednesday night was a normal night on the ECHL schedule with four games, including the Orlando Solar Bears hosting the South Carolina Stingrays. In an attempt to get back into the Kelly Cup playoff picture, the Solar Bears pulled out a 3-1 win and got to within two points of fourth place Atlanta.
However, not all the games were business as usual, thanks to the spreading Coronavirus outbreak.
In Toledo, the Walleye played host to the Cincinnati Cyclones in front of an empty house, due to a mandate in the state of Ohio announced earlier in the day.
BREAKING: Tonight’s game against Cincinnati will be played with a restricted attendance policy. Only official team members and credentialed personnel and media will be allowed to attend tonight's game.— Toledo Walleye (@ToledoWalleye) March 11, 2020
Read more ➡️ https://t.co/73rS9cS2wi pic.twitter.com/deHLLWGvc1
The next day, following in the footsteps of the NBA, NHL, and AHL, the ECHL announced that the season would be suspended as a precautionary measure to help prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. Per a statement by Solar Bears CEO Alex Martins:
“As we have said from the beginning, the health and safety of our fans, employees, players, and partners is our top priority and thus we fully support the ECHL’s decision to postpone games.”
Two days later, the league’s Board of Governors made the decision to shut down for the 2019-2020 season, marking the first time in the league’s 32-year history that a championship will not be awarded.
The decision to fully shut down did not come easily, according to a statement from first year 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.”
The impact of this shutdown will be far reaching for the 26 ECHL teams and their players, on top of the current health situation.
Unlike their brethren in the AHL, players on ECHL only contracts—who make anywhere from $480-630 per week depending on status—will only be paid through Monday, and keep their league health insurance through June 30th.
Maine Mariners assistant captain Terrence Wallin loves hockey. But he has bills to pay like anyone else. And he plans on getting married on August 15, too.— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) March 16, 2020
News of the ECHL shutdown hurt — in more ways than one. (via @EricEngels)https://t.co/YEJQJKLjrE
Several ECHL players have taken to Twitter to express their displeasure to the PHPA about this decision.
@thephpa @ECHL @reporterchris are you guys going to at least give back all the dues you make us pay during the year? I mean, if you clearly won’t go to bat for us, and feel “sympathy” towards owners... why should we pay?! https://t.co/yNDAoM2pxi— Thomas Frazee (@TFrazee16) March 15, 2020
Disappointed with the @thephpa and the @ECHL’s decision to terminate player’s salaries. In a scary time when everyone needs to come together as a community, players and their families are instead left to scramble for themselves. https://t.co/pCEIWEiAIh— Jamie Phillips (@JamiePhillips30) March 15, 2020
Additionally, shutting down just before the start of the Kelly Cup playoffs will hurt those teams that may need the late season revenue to stay afloat. A majority of ECHL teams are locally owned, including the Solar Bears, and need that money for player/staff salaries, game night operations, and other factors. There is a slight possibility that not all teams will return for the 2020-21 ECHL season.
The DeVos family, who own the Solar Bears and the NBA’s Orlando Magic, announced on Monday that they will fund a $2 million compensation fund for Amway Center and Magic hourly workers as a result of postponed events.
So what happens now?
The league will begin preparations for the 2020-21 season earlier than planned, in the shadow of a pandemic that has an uncertain future as far as containment, and when life will return to normal, if ever again.
In the meantime...stay home and WASH YOUR HANDS. And stop panic buying toilet paper.