The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every professional sport, leading to modified seasons and changes in venue. For the East Coast Hockey League, it has prompted a shutdown of its entire Northern Division.
The ECHL is the third level professional hockey league, an affiliate of the National Hockey League, and runs four divisions across the U.S. with two teams in Canada, the Newfoundland Growlers and the Brampton Beast.
“You need to concern yourself first and foremost with the safety of the fans, of the team, and of the staff,” said Anthony Fusco, commentator and head of public relations for the Brampton Beast.
The team, located in Peel Region, is in the middle of one of the highest risk zones in the province for COVID-19 cases.
“I think we all knew what was coming, but it still felt like a punch to the gut,” Fusco said.
“As of the shutdown, we had 18 players signed to the team, ” he said. “All of them are now free-agents.”
The Growlers are affiliated with the Toronto Maples Leafs of the NHL, and the Beast are linked to the Ottawa Senators.
The cuts were to give the players the opportunity to go play for teams in the Southern, Central, or Mountain Divisions of the league, all of which are going forward with the season.
Players also have the opportunity to take their talents overseas and sign with a team in one of the European leagues.
For players, it’s been a roller-coaster, signing contracts with teams and now not being able to play out this season or trying to find a team to play for.
“When we signed this year, we already started talking with our agents and the coaches about if there is a shutdown, will there be a place for us to play,” said Cameron Bakker, a defenceman for the Beast.
Bakker joined the team for the 2019-20 season after spending the previous year with the South Carolina Stingrays in the league’s Southern Division.
He will be signing on with the Pensacola Ice Flyers in the Southern Professional Hockey League for the 2020-21 season and hopes to come back to Brampton next year.
The Beast will retain the rights of the released players for next year, meaning there’s a chance that Bakker, along with the rest of a strong team that never got to play, will be back in the black, red, and white next season.