Three ECHL teams, the Cincinnati Cyclones, Idaho Steelheads and Kalamazoo Wings, will be suspending play for the 2020-21 season under the league’s policy for COVID-19.
The Wings are part of the Vancouver Canucks’ development system, the Cyclones are the NHL affiliate for the Buffalo Sabres and the Steelheads are connected to the Dallas Stars. All three ECHL clubs are set to return to play in 2021-22.
They join the entire North Division of the ECHL — which includes the Adirondack Thunder, Brampton Beast, Maine Mariners, Newfoundland Growlers, Reading Royals, and Worcester Railers — as well as the the Atlanta Gladiators and Norfolk Admirals in deciding to opt out.
“This decision for our clubs was immensely difficult amidst the ever-changing landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic and the inability to return to play throughout our various jurisdictions,” said ECHL commissioner Ryan Crelin in a press release. “We look forward to returning fans and ECHL hockey in these great markets as they shift their focus to the 2021-22 Season.”
Under the terms of the ECHL/PHPA collective bargaining agreement, all players who have signed ECHL contracts with Cincinnati, Idaho and Kalamazoo are free agents for the 2020-21 season immediately.
Currently, there are 15 ECHL teams still expected to compete during the upcoming season, which is slated to begin on Dec. 11.
The shuttering of these three teams is just the latest instance of COVID-19’s impacts on hockey.
Last week, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League announced it will not hold any games until early January because of issues stemming from the novel coronavirus. The Western Hockey League has said it plans to start the season in January, while the Ontario Hockey League has targeted February.