Coast to Coast is FloHockey’s bi-monthly, cohesive news on North American hockey and live-streaming partnerships.
NCAA hockey is officially back in action, as leagues and conferences across the continent (and world, really) grapple with the logistical challenges of a world still enduring the COVID-19 pandemic. Cases continue to spike and the financial burdens are being felt across the world of sports.
But it’s not all bad news: we got a brand-new college hockey program, and seeing the puck drop on the season has at least brought some sense of good back to the hockey world.
ECHL North Division Opts Out
After the league opened up an opt-out option for teams, the Norfolk Admirals and Atlanta Gladiators announced their voluntary suspension for the 2020-21 season, bringing the league down to 24 teams for the upcoming split-season campaign format.
Then last week, the entirety of the North Division also opted out. This includes the voluntary suspensions of the Adirondack Thunder, Brampton Beast, Maine Mariners, Newfoundland Growlers, Reading Royals, and Worcester Railers. The ECHL is now down to 18 teams for the 2020-21 season.
“As we continue to navigate the continually changing regulations across North America, we recognize the difficult nature of this decision,” commissioner Ryan Crelin said in a statement. “While some of our teams’ host cities have allowed upcoming plans to include fans inside arenas, we unfortunately do not see the same path for these highly-affected areas in the Northeast.”
All players signed to contracts with the six recent opt-outs are released as free agents, eligible to sign with any of the 18 teams remaining on the 2020-21 schedule.
NCAA Eligibility Update
Last month, the NCAA expanded its eligibility requirements for winter sports athletes. Given the choice of various programs to cancel their entire seasons and the shortened seasons for programs that remain dedicated to a 2020-21 schedule, the NCAA is navigating through an unprecedented approach to a COVID-laced sports world.
In regards to ice hockey, this expansion allows an extra year of eligibility for athletes given the day-to-day uncertainty of whether a season could be canceled at a moment’s notice.
NCAA hockey previously issued the allowance of players who turn 21 years old during the 2020-21 season to remain eligible should they opt to play within a junior league for the 2020-21 season. This allows players — otherwise labeled ineligible — to return to the NCAA in the 2021-22 season, should they so choose.
Atlantic Hockey Welcomes LIU To Division I
On April 30, Long Island University announced it would recruit, build, and ice a Division I NCAA team for the 2020-21 season. The business got done and the Sharks, the second Independent program in the NCAA, kicked off their inaugural season with a 3-2 OT win over Atlantic Hockey’s Holy Cross.
“I'm kinda speechless in a sense,” Sharks coach Brett Riley told Adam Wodon of College Hockey News following Thursday’s win. “I'm really proud of our guys not only to get a win but the way that they did it. Killing a penalty in OT, it was our fifth straight kill. Two-hundred days ago we didn't have a program. We never killed a penalty before as a group. We've had 15 days of practice (since).”
Given the uncertainty surrounding COVID, LIU entered a scheduling partnership with AH, playing a 23-game schedule solely among AH programs, without eligibility for the conference tournament.
The Sharks fell to the Crusaders on Saturday in a 5-2 loss but will have two weeks off to work on the on-ice business as they prepare for a home-and-home with AIC on Dec. 4-5.
The Ivy League Opts Out
On Nov. 12. the Ivy League Council of Presidents officially canceled winter sports, leaving programs Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale off NCAA hockey schedules for the 2020-21 season. The six programs compete in the ECAC, leaving the schedule to be shared among remaining teams Clarkson, Colgate, Quinnipiac, Rensselaer, St. Lawrence, and Union.
The season cancellations impact upwards of 150 players, and approximately 20 NHL prospects in search of collegiate development during vital years of growth both on and off the ice.
The decision ultimately comes down to student safety given the uptick in COVID cases, the close proximity of college life, weather, and the effects and cost of traveling during such uncertain times.
NHL, Players Hit Snag With CBA
During Return to Play discussions that would eventually lead to the 2020 NHL Playoffs, the NHL and Players’ Association revisited the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, the business side of the NHL regarding rules, finances, and far more.
The re-negotiation of the CBA were largely surrounding players’ salaries, and escrow given the financial uncertainties for some teams following the loss of in-person fans, premature season cancellation, and cost of the 2020 expanded playoff format and bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto.
NHL Insider Elliotte Friedman has reported contentious negotiations between the sides, in which players reportedly feel “angry” and “betrayed” by the NHL’s want to revisit a negotiation that was seemingly settled months prior in the original Return to Play discussions.
Updated blog: a good night’s sleep — https://t.co/gDa7XmctZ0— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) November 19, 2020
The NHL is reportedly looking for more financial concessions from the players through escrow, ultimately leading to forfeited wages rightly owed to players in an otherwise normal NHL season, i.e. pre-COVID.
A start date of Jan. 1 remains the target for a condensed NHL season somewhere in the likely range of 45-60 games, with playoffs to follow. This format would allow the league to return to its regular scheduling in 2021-22, in which the league’s 32nd team, the Seattle Kraken, would have its inaugural season.
Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @Jacob_Messing.