The ECHL, in conjunction with the Professional Hockey Players’ Association, announced today that the 2020-21 season will commence on December 11, 2020 under a split-season format.
Under the split-season guidelines, the following teams will begin a 72-game season on December 11:
- Kansas City
- Rapid City
- South Carolina
Additionally, remaining ECHL teams will begin their season on January 15, 2021, competing in a 62-game season upon jurisdictional approval.
The Atlanta Gladiators have elected to take a voluntary suspension for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 restrictions, returning to play in the 2021-22 season. All Atlanta Gladiators players are immediately free agents for the 2020-21 season.
“The ECHL is excited to be able to confirm the beginning of the 2020-21 season by working with our local health officials and the PHPA to develop protocols for the safe return of our players, fans, and employees. The ECHL is getting back to hockey, as we all work together to bring live entertainment back to our communities.”
Ryan Crelin, ECHL Commissioner
“Our ECHL members have been looking forward to getting back on the ice since March 16, and providing the fans with exciting hockey in a safe environment. I would like to thank Ryan Crelin, the ECHL Board of Governors and the commitment from our Return to Play Committee including Jake Flegel, Josh Holmstrom, Steven Kaunisto, Justin Taylor, and Riley Weselowski.”
Larry Landon, PHPA Executive Director
In light of today’s announcement, the Toledo Walleye have rescheduled Winterfest from December 2020 to December 2021.
“We have been working diligently on playing hockey in 2020-21 and although we waited as long as we could, we had to make a decision. With the new anticipated split-season and the Walleye opting to begin in January, our entire focus is to safely get hockey back into the Huntington Center. We continue to work with the Lucas-County Health Department and the State of Ohio to get clearance and a better understanding of seating capacities for both the upcoming Walleye and Mud Hens season.”
Joe Napoli, Walleye President and CEO
Winterfest 2020 was originally scheduled to run from December 17, 2020 through January 3, 2021 and feature two outdoor Walleye games at Fifth Third Field.
“Winterfest is a premier event not only for the Walleye, but for the City of Toledo and our entire community. Following the tremendous success of the first Winterfest in 2015, we want Winterfest 2021 to have the same energy, excitement and impact.
Neil Neukam, Walleye General Manager and Executive Vice President
Nearly 60,000 people attended events at Fifth Third Field during the ten days of Winterfest in 2015 and the economic impact to county businesses was estimated at $9-$11 million.
The specific dates for Winterfest 2021 will be announced at a later time. The ECHL regular season will conclude on June 6, 2021. A schedule for games from December 11, 2020 through January 14, 2021 will be announced in the near future.
Under this split-season scenario, league standings will be based on winning percentage during the regular season. The postseason format will be based on the eligible competing teams in the regular season and will be announced at a later date.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Could you put it into words how challenging these decisions have been considering the impact they are having on the organization's players, coaches, employees, and fans?
It’s been very challenging for all ECHL league members since the end of this past season in March. The coronavirus pandemic has impacted many of our league peers and their respective communities. The decisions relative to today were made as a league with the best interest in mind for all players, coaches, employees, and fans. As an organization, we’re excited at the prospect of returning back to the ice and skating in the 2020-21 season.
How are questions regarding tickets from season ticket holders and those that have partial plans being answered?
Our FINatics will be hearing from us directly over the next two weeks. As in the past, one to one contact, with a personal touch is best. Our overriding message is please have patience with us as we continue to navigate our way through these unchartered waters. All will be communicated with in the very near future.
Under the Ohio Health department's current guidelines, the maximum for indoor sports venues is 15 percent of fixed, seated capacity. Has the Walleye organization submitted a request to have a variance to allow for a higher spectator limit?
We continue to work with and adhere to the guidance from the Lucas County Health Department, State of Ohio, ProMedica, and the ECHL league office. Re-opening plans have been submitted for Walleye hockey and we’ll be submitting the variance request for additional capacity levels that have been successfully accomplished by other teams in professional sports. We feel confident that we can re-open under the protocols and guidelines established by local, state and national health officials.
What is the minimum number of spectators needed for single games at the Huntington Center to make it financially feasible to hold a 2020-21 season?
Unfortunately, the reality is for us and everyone the ECHL that the 2020-21 season will be unlike any on record. We’re accepting of the fact that this season will be a financial challenge and because the team has and will incur financial losses, we hope that all of those who have supported the Walleye over the years will continue to do so during the upcoming season, as we'll need our fan support now more than ever before.
Is it a possibility that the Walleye organization may have to opt to suspend operations for the season like the Atlanta Gladiators?
Our intent and desire since the season ended this past March was to and has been about getting back onto the ice and safely re-opening the Huntington Center. We will continue to take each day one at a time and work with all the appropriate parties to hopefully ensure that a suspension of operations would not be needed for this season.