The American Hockey League has officially announced its plans for an early-February start date for the 2020-21 AHL season. After announcing in late-July that the season would begin on December 4, AHL President and CEO Scott Howson reversed course and bumped back the plans by two months.
“The American Hockey League’s Board of Governors has approved moving the anticipated start date of the 2020-21 season to February 5, 2021, due to the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis,” read a statement from the AHL’s PR department Wednesday afternoon.
This news comes after ‘significant consideration and respect to the governing health bodies’ within the appropriate geographical zones, and follows the recommendation from the Return to Play Task Force. Guidelines for each of the 31 member clubs will be provided in the coming weeks/months.
Of the many concerns surrounding a return to play, the largest issue would be cross-border travel, as the league has teams stationed in both Canada and the United States. With the Manitoba Moose, Toronto Marlies, Belleville Senators and Laval Rocket up north, the risks of allowing US-based teams into the country would be high. But with COVID-19 numbers growing in each of those four markets, the question of actually going ahead with competition remains in play.
How things will look within the AHL remains unknown. Will fans be in attendance? Will teams play out of their own home arenas? Will some teams share arenas, training facilities, flights, buses? At this point, we do not know. What we do know is that of all of the ‘return-to-play’ frameworks within the NHL, NBA, NFL and MLB, the National Hockey League has done the absolute best job of providing a safe playing/living/working environment for their respective member players and teams, and we can most definitely expect the same from the AHL in the new year.