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Newfoundland Growlers to sit out the 2020-2021 season

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They give up the chance to defend their championship to preserve the safety of their players.

Maine Mariners vs. Newfoundland Growlers Staff photo by Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Today we expect the Newfoundland Growlers to announce they will sit out the 2020-2021 ECHL season.

The defending Kelly Cup champions cannot now defend their title, but they can know in their hearts they’ve done the right thing. No hockey league is worth risking the health and safety of players, and the Growlers would never have received permission to have teams come into the Atlantic Canada bubble.

Brampton would also struggle to operate without relocation, Maine has a wealthy owner, and can set aside money issues (Comcast), And some of the other teams are in Massachusetts, where Coronavirus mitigation is taken more seriously than in some other states.

The writing was on the wall when the Growlers failed to sign any players in the recent rush of ECHL signings. As US-based teams plan to start their season, many of them located in Coronavirus hot spots, the ECHL has never made public any rules, regulations or standards for player safety. While the ECHLers have a union — it’s shared with AHLers — they’ve had nothing public to say either.

ECHL contracts pay very little compared to AHL deals, but include health and dental benefits and paid accommodation, usually in shared housing. There is nothing about the usual ECHL setup that says safety in a pandemic. There has been zero assurance from the league that they have any plans to bring in new measures that are safer.

Most ECHL teams have no NHL investment, and run close to the bone as businesses that make enough to cover the costs through ticket sales and local sponsorships and advertising. They’re part of their communities, but utterly dependant on fans in the stands to keep going. It’s tough to watch the teams struggle, to lay off their already lean levels of staff, but the alternative is to put on a show while a pandemic rages unchecked around you. Choices have to be made, and the Growlers chose wisely.

At this time, there is no word on the contract status of Miles Gendron, Garrett Johnston, captain James Melindy, Todd Skirving, Brendan Soucie or Mark Tremaine. Those six players are the only players the Growlers signed for this season.

Update:

Under the terms of the ECHL/PHPA Collective Bargaining Agreement, 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.

Scroll down for the official release of the ECHL.

For Leafs fans, this only adds another layer of questions. With no ability to loan off the AHL players, should that AHL season ever happen, the Marlies might end up as overstuffed as the Leafs seem to be right now.

All of that, like so many things is to be determined, but for now, remember, the Growlers are the champions.


The ECHL officially announced the North Division withdrawing from play, and in doing so made the following astonishing statements:

In light of COVID-19’s continued impact across the Northeast region, the ECHL announced Wednesday that each of the six teams in the North Division - Adirondack Thunder, Brampton Beast, Maine Mariners, Newfoundland Growlers, Reading Royals and Worcester Railers – will be suspending play for the 2020-21 ECHL season under the League’s policy for COVID-19. All teams are set to return in the 2021-22 ECHL season.

“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.”

The implication that the Northeast of the United States is “highly-affected” by COVID-19, while the other areas of the nation are not is wholly false. All areas of the USA are seeing high rates of Coronavirus infection, and ECHL teams that will be playing and filling arenas with fans are doing so in states with current rates of infection higher than New York or Massachusetts.

This characterization of the ECHL’s decision to play hockey because local officials won’t stop them as based on infection rate variation or virus mitigation success is irresponsible misinformation.

There is no ECHL team located in a location with less Coronavirus than the Newfoundland Growlers, and that is due to geography, sacrifices made by the people of Atlantic Canada and sound management of disease prevention. The ECHL doesn’t wish to notice that fact as they attempt to paint their decision to play hockey in packed arenas in a pandemic as totally reasonable.