The Maine Mariners, who had their 2019-20 season cut short in March, won’t begin the 2020-21 season until Dec. 4. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The Maine Mariners will have to wait a little longer to get back onto the ice.

The ECHL announced Wednesday that the start date for the 2020-21 season has been pushed back to Dec. 4, with a full 72-game schedule to follow.

The ECHL originally had been set to begin on Oct. 16, but with the coronavirus pandemic still ongoing, the league worked with the Professional Hockey Players’ Association to come up with a later start date.

And that’s fine with members of the Mariners’ hockey staff, who want to make sure safety protocols are established for everyone involved.

“We want to make sure the fans and our staff are safe going back to the rink,” said Danny Briere, the vice president of operations. “And at the same time, our players too … We want to make sure our players are going to be safe when play resumes. We’re hoping the fans understand and stay with us. We can’t wait for hockey to be back. But we have to be safe.”

Briere and Mariners Coach Riley Armstrong stressed that, unlike the NHL or NBA, the ECHL players will not be in a bubble. They will be traveling from city to city, much like Major League Baseball, which has already had games called off because of a COVID-19 outbreak among players.

“We’re going from city to city,” said Armstrong. “What we don’t want is (COVID) spreading through a locker room because we’re so close with each other. We have to worry about the safety of the players.”

Still, just having a potential starting date in place is a positive sign for the Mariners, though much will depend on how the NHL, tentatively starting Dec. 1, and American Hockey League, tentatively starting on Dec. 4, get through training camp.

“It is,” said Armstrong. “It gives myself and all the players a starting point to kick it off. We can go from there, and hopefully everything will run smoothly.”

With the delay, Armstrong has suggested to his players that they take some time off from training. “You can only work out so much before you’re completely exhausted,” he said. “I’ve told them to take a few weeks off, then ramp it up again.”

Armstrong and Briere are hopeful fans will be able to attend games at Cross Insurance Arena. Currently, state guidelines allow only 50 people for indoor gatherings.

“It would be very difficult, at our level, to go without fans,” said Briere. “Our fans are critical. And that’s another major reason why this decision was made (to delay the start). It would be difficult without our fans and sponsors to support us.”

The Mariners’ average home attendance last season was 2,685.

Adjustments to the schedule will be announced at a later date. But the league stressed it will try to play a full 72-game season, which would likely end in mid-to-late May.

“If you look at the NHL and the American (Hockey) League, they’re willing to push their seasons a little longer,” said Briere. “I don’t know what will happen in future years, but we would be playing until late May. And I think that would be exciting for hockey fans.

“I know watching (Stanley Cup) playoff hockey in August, I’m in heaven right now.”

The ECHL canceled the remainder of the 2019-20 season on March 15, following the lead of other professional and collegiate leagues. The Mariners finished 32-26-3-1 and were on their way to a playoff berth in their second season.

While a shutdown of the 2020-21 season is still a possibility depending on the track of the pandemic, ECHL officials believe moving the starting date back was essential.

“We are eager to return to hockey, but at this time we believe this decision is prudent for the safety of our players, employees and fans,” said ECHL Commissioner Ryan Crelin in a statement. “The ECHL and our Board of Governors are focused on the 2020-21 season and remain optimistic for the safe reopening of our venues across the continent. We appreciate our partners’ and fans’ continued support and patience, as we work together with our venues, local health officials and the members of the PHPA’s Executive Committee towards the safe return of ECHL hockey.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.