As we all have learned over the last 10 weeks, there is a “New Normal” underway, that is yet to be clearly defined in a current or future narrative. The WSHL was one of the first sports organizations, on March 6th, to modify its operating procedures, schedule, and preparations for playoffs. The playoff schedule to begin on March 12 was amended, removing two Washington State teams from playoffs, due to the extreme surge of COVID-19 patients in the greater Seattle area. At the time, many fans, pundits, parents, players, and team representatives, alike, were utterly appalled by the decision. Subsequent to the initial decision by the Executive Committee of the WSHL, with concern for an abundance of caution for the safety of our players, staff, fans, families, etc., canceled the entire 26th Annual WSHL Thorne Cup Playoffs. Within hours of the WSHL’s decision, the NHL halted their own 2019-2020 season, reflecting the actions of other major sports leagues, worldwide.
Since then, we have been monitoring the constant medical reports, federal and state, provincial governments’ responses to COVID-19, and all of the restrictions implemented by them. The majority of the variables which impact our sport and participation are still in effect, and will continue to be for an indefinite period of time.
Given that the WSHL has over 300 international players on its teams, plays regular season games internationally, has over 500 players living with our gracious host families, has bus travel to games that can exceed 12 hours, and the inability to social distance and wear medical type facemasks in training and/or game situations, the medical reasons alone make it a major safety issue. Additionally, the logistics of operation, in uncertain times, is an unfathomable task for each team to undertake, as well as at a league level. The obvious potential liability for team owners in the face of COVID-19 requires significant consideration.
Currently, across Canada and the United States, very few ice rinks are open, and tryouts cannot be held. Even if they were open, the tryout would be minimized due to the governmental restrictions over crowd control. Nonetheless teams need to continue to recruit, which creates payroll and expenses, without any assured knowledge that the 2020-2021 season will start on-time, or start at all. Medical predictions indicate the likelihood of a resurgence of COVID-19 as the Winter months approach. Given the current status of closed borders, it would seem optimistic, at best, to project that the required number of players, for Summer Tryout Camps or Fall Training Camps, would be able to lawfully attend. As important is the very recent announcements by several universities and colleges, even minor pro leagues that likely they will not participate in the 2020-2021 season either which impacts the players advancing to higher levels without recruiting being done at the higher levels.
Lastly, with the current governmental restrictions that have slowed the economy, and put millions out of work in both Canada and the United States, teams become extremely vulnerable. Operating in this financial climate could easily result in failure, based on potential losses or inability to generate ticket sales, sponsorship or advertising dollars, etc. The aforementioned revenue streams are crucial to the success and sustainability of WSHL member clubs, and junior hockey clubs around the globe.
On the grounds that, currently, there is no known vaccine, accompanied by extremely negative medical conditions, economic pitfalls, and the forecast of a resurgence of COVID-19, which could again be cause to terminate the season, the WSHL, with an abundance of caution, must make an extremely difficult decision.
Based on the above reasons, and forecasted medical problems that could be ahead of us, the Board of Governors of the Western States Hockey League have voted to go dormant for the 2020-2021 season. The WSHL will immediately start preparing for a return in 2021-2022 season. This is the most burdensome and painful decision ever made at the WSHL Board of Governors level, however, we strongly feel that continuing operations in the current climate is not safe or conducive to the success of our member players, nor teams.We wish everyone health and prosperity, and we look forward to coming back stronger than ever!
The Western States Hockey League (WSHL) has spent the first 30 days of the Coronavirus "stay at home" policy working on alternatives for the 2020-2021 ice hockey season and like most people looking forward to some guidance from our legislators on when, how soon, etc. we can all safely return to what used to be normal activity.
The WSHL teams are currently recruiting as much as possible through social media, telephone interviews, and where possible video review. Even without any on ice tryouts to date, the recruiting successes, signing of contracts, appears to be running ahead of the normal calendar both in the U.S. and internationally.
Although it appears that a few veteran teams are departing, there will be a few new teams joining the WSHL for the next season both in the U.S. and Canada. More information will be forthcoming as the decisions are made regarding the likelihood and structure of the 2020-2021 season in regards to the legislative release as to social distancing, small group gatherings, travel restrictions, etc., due strictly to the Coronavirus effects on all of us.
Assuming the season isn't pushed back on the calendar due to the effects of the Coronavirus, we have scheduled to start the season the first weekend of October, the Showcase will be Dec. 18-21 in Las Vegas, NV, with playoffs beginning the 2nd weekend in March 2021. If for some reason beyond our control the season is pushed back on the calendar, we will make the necessary adjustments to complete the season in the best manner possible.
Those interested players should reach out to the league at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Likewise since the formal season calendar is fluid at the moment, there is still the possibility to add the right team(s) in the right location(s) and those interested should also contact us by email at the above address.
In the Spirit of legendary hockey coach Bob Johnson, "ITS A GREAT DAY FOR HOCKEY", so let's hope that comes sooner than later.
The WSHL with 26 seasons under its belt has never found itself with the incredible decision it has had to deal with over the last week. What started out as a regional issue in a distant country, in a period of 4 weeks has become “everyone’s” problem. With the spread globally of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) we like many industrial corporations, countries, states, national sports organizations find ourselves having to not only consider the safety of our membership, but the community as a whole.
In the abundance of caution and consideration for the safety of all, last week the WSHL made the decision to restrict and withdraw three teams from the Northwest Division schedule, even with 2 of the Washington teams who would be moving onto playoffs because of the possible exposure to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) by members of a team. This was not a cavalier decision on our part, although given the negative comments on social media by people who obviously don’t consider the safety of others, we were painted as the “bad guys.” That abundance of caution was originally made specific to the Washington based teams because of the exposure.
As of 10:00 pm Wednesday March 11, in follow-up to our initial decision based totally on player, staff, spectator, community safety, the WSHL Executive Committee with the approval of the Board of Governors meeting which has taken place at 11:00am Thursday March 12 has terminated the 2019-2020 season, including the league Championship Event – the Thorne Cup.
However, we strongly believe given the circumstances it is the best decision, and was unanimously approved by the board of governors of the WSHL.
Western States Hockey League
Ron White, President