This article was originally published on Mar. 11 at 9:45 PM, ET. We will be updating it as more information comes in.
Hockey Canada Cancels All Activities
Hockey Canada announced on Thursday evening that it would be canceling all Hockey Canada-sanctioned activities until further notice.
At this juncture, the number of hockey tournaments, leagues, and organizations that are canceled far outweighs those that are still ongoing. Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) is continuing to play, but most North American and European leagues have either canceled or postponed.
NHL Pauses Season
Mar. 12, 1:45 PM:
After hours of speculation, the expected is now official: the NHL is pausing the 2019-20 regular season amidst growing concern over the Coronavirus pandemic.
“In light of ongoing developments resulting from the coronavirus, and after consulting with medical experts and convening a conference call of the Board of Governors, the National Hockey League is announcing today that it will pause the 2019-20 season beginning with tonight’s games,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement.
The statement added that the League’s “goal is to resume play as soon as it is appropriate and prudent, so that we will be able to complete the season and award the Stanley Cup.”
College Tournaments Cancelled
Mar. 12, 1:45 PM:
The NCAA is also taking action, and many of its divisions are canceling major ice hockey tournaments scheduled in the next few weeks. The NCHC Tournament has been canceled, as has the Hockey East Tournament., and the Atlantic Hockey Tournament.
There is speculation that the Frozen Four, the ice hockey national championship, will be canceled as well, but nothing is official as of yet.
Momentum Building Toward NHL Suspension
Mar. 12, 10:45 AM:
Various reports suggest that the NHL is moving towards suspending its season, much like the National Basketball Association (NBA) did Wednesday evening. The most significant of these at present is Pierre LeBrun’s report that the League is sending officials home. Naturally, the NHL’s decision will have ramifications for other leagues.
The NHL is still scheduled to have a Board of Governors call this afternoon at 1:00 PM. A final decision should come then. But Chris Johnston is reporting that “at least one road team in a NHL city that is still officially scheduled to play tonight has started making plans to fly home this afternoon.” So it sounds as if that decision may have already been reached.
Isobel Cup Final Cancelled; NHL Practices in Jeopardy
Mar. 12, 9:25 AM:
The National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) has postponed the Isobel Cup Final previously scheduled for Friday. The NWHL said in a statement:
We want to host the Isobel Cup Final in an environment where our fans, players, and everyone working or attending our championship game can feel safe. The progression of COVID-19 in many parts of the world, including the U.S., resulted in the league making this decision in the interest of public health and the wellbeing of all involved in the event.
The League also added, “at the appropriate time, the NWHL, Pride and Whitecaps will reschedule the Isobel Cup Final for a later date in Boston.”
Elsewhere, NHL Public Relations tweeted that, given the uncertainty surrounding the virus and the future of the NHL’s season, “clubs are advised not to conduct morning skates, practices or team meetings today.”
Switzerland Cancels Season, NHL Update Expected
Mar. 12, 8:40 AM:
Overnight, the National League, the top league in Switzerland, officially cancelled the remainder of its season. This comes two weeks after the League decided to play in empty arenas during the outbreak.
Meanwhile, momentum is building towards the NHL following in the NBA’s footsteps and suspending their season. The NHL will hold a Board of Governors call this afternoon at 1:00 PM to discuss the situation and make further decisions.
NHL’s Latest Announcement
Mar. 11, 10:20 PM:
The NHL released a statement on Wednesday night to address rumors that they would follow the NBA in suspending their season.
According to the announcement, the League is “continuing to consult with medical experts and is evaluating the options.” They “expect to have a further update” on Thursday. But League reporters like Darren Dreger are reporting that season suspension isn’t in the plans for now.
On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the spread of Coronavirus, or COVID-19, a pandemic. The disease, a virus in the same family as the SARS outbreak of 2002 and 2003, has spread around the globe. There are over 118,000 confirmed cases as of this writing, with over 4,000 confirmed Coronavirus-related fatalities.
COVID-19 spreads quickly and is highly contagious, which has caused many national, state, and local governments to cancel or restrict large group gatherings. Hockey games are no exception, as Santa Clara County proved with the San Jose Sharks earlier this week.
In this article, we’ll take a look at many of the restrictions and cancellations we know about so far, some of the ramifications for the game at large, the NHL’s response, and potential decisions in the future. This situation is evolving every day, so we invite you to stay tuned to THW for all your hockey-related COVID-19 news.
Europe Cancelling Seasons
Outside of China, Europe may be the area hit hardest by COVID-19. It is the only continent with at least one diagnosed case in every country. Understandably, European hockey leagues are taking every precaution necessary to limit the spread of Coronavirus, and many of their leagues have cancelled or substantially altered the remainder of their seasons.
Germany and Austria led the way by cancelling the remainder of their league’s seasons. They announced the cancellation of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL) and the Erste Bank Eishockey Liga (EBEL) on Mar. 10. Norway, Poland, and Slovakia followed suit on Mar. 11, cancelling the remainder of their seasons as well.
Other leagues have avoided termination while still altering their plans. The Czech Extraliga will play its games in empty venues, with no fans in attendance. And Denmark, France, and Switzerland have postponed or suspended their playoffs until a future date.
As of now, Russia’s KHL expects to go forward without alteration. Finland’s season is approaching its conclusion and no changes have been made so far, which is also true of Sweden and Great Britain. But in the moment-by-moment nature of this pandemic, any of those leagues could change their minds at any time.
Cancellations in North America
European leagues are not the only hockey competitions affected by this virus, though. The International Ice Hockey Foundation (IIHF) announced the cancellation of the Women’s World Ice Hockey Championship, which was set for later this month in Halifax and Truro, Nova Scotia. The IIHF expects that Nova Scotia will now host the tournament in 2021 instead.
The Sharks announced on Wednesday that they would play their next three home games in an empty arena. Harvard University is reportedly forfeiting the remainder of its season due to concerns over the virus. Most recently, the Columbus Blue Jackets have restricted attendance at their games.
The NHL’s Preparations
The NHL is closely monitoring the situation as a league and taking necessary precautions as they arise. They joined with the other major American sports leagues in closing clubhouses and locker rooms to limit the risk to players. The league also held a conference call earlier this week with team presidents to discuss the outbreak and its potential effect on the season.
With the NHL’s postseason scheduled to begin in about a month, it is obviously a difficult time to make these decisions. The NHL seems more inclined to follow the lead of state and local governments than to take initial action themselves, which allows them to diffuse the blame with potentially unhappy fans.
Social media was set ablaze Wednesday night with the news that the NBA season would be suspended. The NCAA has also announced that the Men’s basketball tournament, March Madness, will be held in empty venues. The NHL has not yet taken such drastic action, but a landmark decision could potentially come at any time.
Cancellations Seem Likely
While there’s no official word at this point, it seems more and more likely that the NHL will be forced to majorly alter its strategy for the remainder of the season at the League level. With the NCAA and NBA’s announcements, as well as Major League Soccer’s (MLS) decision to cancel games, the pressure will increase on leagues like Major League Baseball (MLB) and the NHL to take drastic measures.
If and when that happens, we will have updates for you here at THW. At this time, everyone’s primary concern should be health, safety, and limiting the spread of this virus as quickly as possible.
Stephen Ground is a veteran of over three years at THW, focusing on the St. Louis Blues, NHL goaltending, and the annual World Junior Championship. He is the co-host of the Two Guys One Cup Podcast, a hockey podcast focused on the Blues.