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Hockey cancellations and postponements

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With the Sharks facing a ban on large gatherings at their home arena, the response to COVID-19 has now hit the NHL.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-St. Louis Blues at San Jose Sharks John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE: this post should now be considered out of date. At this time, most hockey in the world is either cancelled, postponed or set to be played in empty arenas. We’ll have new posts when new information is available.

Barely a week ago, the Swiss government instituted a temporary ban on large gatherings, prompting the Swiss hockey league (NLA) to first play some games in empty arenas and then to postpone their playoffs. The Swiss are due to re-visit this issue in the coming days, so “postpone” might turn into cancel.

The Swiss action, and similar moves around the world, is in response to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus named SARS-CoV-2.

Last night, the Santa Clara County, California authorities, who had already asked for a voluntary restriction on large events, made it an official ban.

This ban affects all events at SAP center in San Jose, home rink of both the San Jose Sharks and the San Jose Barracuda, their AHL affiliate.

According to the Mercury News, the ban takes effect at midnight Wednesday, and will last for three weeks.

Santa Clara County is one of a handful of areas in the country where there have been documented instances of community transmission — meaning the COVID-19 virus is circulating and passing from person to person here.

The ban will apply to San Jose Sharks games and other events planned for San Jose’s SAP Center. The ban will not be enforced at airports, shopping centers or any place where people are in transit, county officials said. They also said they are not recommending the closure of schools.

Events planned for March at the SAP Center that will be impacted by the ban include three Sharks games, two Barracuda games, five nights of Cirque de Soleil, four performances by motivational speaker Tony Robbins and a Marc Anthony concert. Robbins had canceled his performances earlier Monday, saying that Santa Clara County is a “hot zone.”

The Sharks have issued a statement saying they will comply with the ban, but they have not yet decided how to handle the games scheduled to be played there.

Yesterday the NHL joined the other major sports leagues in issuing this statement:

NEW YORK, March 9, 2020 – Major League Baseball (MLB), Major League Soccer (MLS), the National Basketball Association (NBA), and the National Hockey League (NHL) today issued the following joint statement:

“After consultation with infectious disease and public health experts, and given the issues that can be associated with close contact in pre- and post-game settings, all team locker rooms and clubhouses will be open only to players and essential employees of teams and team facilities until further notice. Media access will be maintained in designated locations outside of the locker room and clubhouse setting. These changes will be effective beginning with tomorrow’s games and practices.

“We will continue to closely monitor this situation and take any further steps necessary to maintain a safe and welcoming environment.”

But they have no official puplic policy yet on handling bans like the one in San Jose. The AHL has been silent on this issue to date, as has the ECHL.

Multiple reports have indicated that the NHL is building a contingency plan to host games at “neutral sites” if that becomes necessary. This might solve the Sharks short-term needs, but if many jurisdictions begin banning large gatherings, this option will become less useful, and the only way to play the games might be in empty arenas.

The following is a partial list of the status of the major leagues and international events.

Canadian Junior Hockey

No disruptions at this time.

UPDATE: WHL teams in Washington State will play without more than 250 people on site per government order.

NCAA

The RPI-Harvard Men’s Quarterfinals are going to be played without spectators. This choice was a result of RPI’s own policy of “social-distancing protocols”, and not a result of a public health body ruling.

UPDATE: Harvard has forfeited this playoff round, and all games are cancelled. This is the first cancellation of post-season play in North America

At this time, all other Men’s and Women’s NCAA Division I games are going ahead as planned, but other universities in the USA have started to make campus policies like RPI’s, so more events could be affected.

Both the Men’s and Women’s Frozen Four takes place in the coming weeks. The Women’s is March 20 - 22 at Boston University. The Men’s is April 9 - 11 at the Detroit Red Wings arena.

UPDATE:

This should mean all NCAA hockey playoffs and the frozen fours will be without fans.

IIHF

The IIHF runs a series of national championships for men and women, at junior and senior levels throughout the year. The very large number of countries from all over the world participate in events with a relegation and promotion format to set the international ranking from number one all the way down. The rankings make up part of the seeding process for the Olympic Games. Many of these tournament cancellations will affect Olympic seeding, so the IIHF will have to come up with a new system to determine eligibility for the next winter games in 2022. There are special Olympic Qualification tournaments played, some yet to take place that may be cancelled.

The IIHF has cancelled all tournaments scheduled for March, including the Women’s World Championships. They are set to make decisions on the events scheduled for April in the coming days.

Reports, unconfirmed officially but implied by the IIHF statement, state that the cancellation of the Women’s Worlds was at the request of the Nova Scotia authorities.

The Men’s U20 events have all been played (the top division of the U20 is better known as the WJC). However, the three Men’s U18 events are set for April, while four scheduled for March were cancelled. The top U18 division tournament is a major pre-draft event, and this year it is scheduled for Plymouth and Ann Arbor, Michigan in mid-April.

Beyond the top level, three other Women’s Divisions have had their tournaments cancelled, while two have been completed. The international women’s season is effectively over.

The IIHF also runs the Challenge Cup of Asia, this year scheduled to begin in late April in Singapore.

European Hockey

The WHL (Women’s hockey league affiliated with the KHL) is playing their championship game on Wednesday, March 11.

The Swiss women’s league is in their playoffs, and the decision for their games and the youth hockey in Switzerland was to go ahead with games as they never draw over the 1,000 spectator limit.

The Swedish women’s league, SDHL is not finished for the season, and will play without fans, and the Finnish women’s league is nearly done.

The KHL is in the first round of the playoffs and no talk of cancelling or postponing games has reached the English press. All KHL playoff teams this season are in Russia with the exception of Jokerit in Helsinki and Barys in Kazakhstan.

Update:

No indication yet this will be obeyed, but the first home game by any of these teams is on March 12.

Update: CSKA has stopped sales of tickets to second round games (they have completed the first round).

The SHL and Liiga are about to finish their regular seasons, and there has been no disruption.

UPDATE: the Swedish government has banned large gatherings. The SHL will play the Wednesday games as planned due to the late notice, but will make plans to either play the remaining games with no fans or make other arrangements.

Thursday: SHL postpones playoffs, lower-level leagues will continue without fans. Finland bans all large gatherings. Regular season games will be played without fans.

NLA: currently all games are postponed. Update: Thursday, all Swiss hockey is cancelled.

The Norwegian league postponed playoff games until further notice. Update: see below, now cancelled.

The ALPS Hockey League which has teams in Italy, Austria and Slovenia has postponed their playoffs pending a decision later this month.

EBEL with the first outright cancellation of remaining games.

DEL also cancels the playoffs.

The latest update as of March 11:

ECHL

No disruptions at this time.

AHL

Two San Jose Barracuda home games, March 17 and March 22 are pending a decision on how they will be played.

NHL

Three San Jose Sharks home games, March 19, 21 and 29 are pending a decision on how they will be played.


We will update this post with further information as it comes in.

On March 10, the governor of Ohio requested a voluntary ban on large indoor events, the Columbus Blue Jackets, and we can assume, the Cleveland Monsters refused to comply.

Update: The governor of Ohio has announced they will make this request a law. Still no official word from the Sharks or the NHL on how they will handle their home games.

The Columbus Blue Jackets have agreed to obey in advance. No word on the Monsters, but they aren’t at home right now.