The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many companies and organizations to shut down, and now it’s forced one of Canada’s two current Eastern Coast Hockey League teams to shut down.
The Brampton Beast hockey team started in 2013 in the ECHL announced it was ceasing operations on Feb. 18. The team was part of the third tier of professional hockey behind the American Hockey League (AHL) and the National Hockey League (NHL).
The team — part of the Ottawa Senators system, Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens at points of their tenure — suspended operations last year because of the pandemic and then opted not to play this year.
The pandemic also shut down the season for the rest of the north division teams, a major consideration being cross-border travel. The time without games hurt the team financially.
“The pandemic really cost us three seasons,” Cary Kaplan, team president and general manager, said.
The Beast were not only a major presence on the ice but also off the ice and in the surrounding community. Team members frequented local schools and hospitals visiting patients and students, reading to fans, and just being around to talk and interact.
The team is now asking fans to send in their memories from the team’s time in Brampton with photos and videos of individual fans at games and with players at community events.
“I’m gonna miss the community aspect of it all, going out to all the hospitals and the schools,” said Anthony Fusco, the Beast’s public relations head and play-by-play announcer.
The Beast infused themselves into the community, each player and member of the organization became apart of the surrounding area. The team wasn’t just made up of the players and staff, it was made of 700,000 people, Kaplan and Fusco say.
“Of the roughly 700,000 people, the only people in all of Brampton signing autographs are the 20 players of the Brampton Beast,” Kaplan said.
In turn, the outreach motivated an average of about 2,700 fans to attend games at the CAA Centre on Kennedy Road South.
One of the four professional hockey teams in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), the Beast represented other nearby communities.
“I would argue with anybody that says Brampton isn’t a good hockey market,” said Kaplan, talking about the number of hockey fans in the city, but also in the surrounding area.