Mike Waddell took a minute to figure out exactly how often his team has been home recently. The final numbers were hard to believe.
Three. That’s how many games the Allen Americans will play at Allen Event Center from New Year’s Day through March 3.
Nine. That’s how many they’ll play in the calendar year after COVID-19 shut down the ECHL last season.
“That’s a stunning statement to say,” said Waddell, Allen’s president. “Nine games in a year at home? The Cowboys play more than that and they didn’t even make the playoffs. It’s tough.”
If a once-in-a-century pandemic wasn’t a large enough obstacle for the Americans to overcome, another was waiting for them last week. A once-in-a-generation freeze.
The storm that knocked out power in Texas, left millions desperately searching for heat, and made roads impossible to navigate, put the season on hold. Again. Two games against Kansas City were pushed back to a later date.
Allen, a Dallas suburb, wasn’t the only sports team affected. The NBA’s Mavericks and NHL’s Stars also postponed games.
The Americans, Waddell said, had the resources to play. They decided it wasn’t the right course to follow.
“When you look at the total landscape of what’s going on, this is probably not where we needed to be,” Waddell said. “We don’t need to be on the ice right now. We need to keep everybody safe. Look, we can put on a game but is that going to be the best thing for our sponsors or for our fans?”
This wasn’t the first time the Americans had home games rescheduled at the last minute. They had a three-game series against Wichita postponed in mid-January.
During ordinary times, ECHL teams fret when they’re away from home too long. It’s harder to stay engaged with fans, to stay fresh in their minds.
An idle couple of weekends is worrisome. That’s nothing compared to what the Americans are enduring.
When the games were taken away last month, Waddell and broadcaster Tommy Daniels went to practice and held a Facebook Live session that lasted 1 hour, 45 minutes. It was shot through Waddell’s phone.
Anything to remind fans that the team is still around. The season is still going.
“There’s only so much of that stuff you can really do,” Waddell said. “There’s no substitute for having your family come together. That’s what fans are at a hockey game in Allen. It’s a hockey family.”
Allen, under the guidance of coach Steve Martinson, has handled the challenges well. The Americans are 15-7-1 and have the second-best winning percentage in the West Division.
All of Allen’s players were off last week. No practices were held following their road game on Feb. 15. It was a chance to rest before the grind that’s still ahead. Pandemic and weather permitting.
Waddell was excited about the possibilities over the next few months. With so many home games and the weather getting warmer, there’s a chance for some outdoor events that could be safe for fans.
The team president even came up with an idea to market the March 3 return to Allen Event Center as Opening Night 2. Why not? The first opening night feels like a lifetime ago.
“If we can make it through this, and this is what we say all the time, how are we going to feel next year?” Waddell said.
When the pandemic is in the past. When the schedule starts on time and doesn’t constantly change. When, hopefully, the power stays on.
Jason Guarente has covered the Reading Royals and ECHL for 10 seasons. He can be found on Twitter @JasonGuarente.