Iceman, ECHL will beging 2020-21 season in staggered format

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Like all sports leagues, the ECHL has been forced to make adjustments to the way they do business. For the 2020-2021 season, that means not every team will play the same number of games.

The league announced Friday that the Icemen and many other ECHL teams will begin the season on Dec. 11. Teams opening the season along with the Icemen include Florida Everblades, Orlando Solar Bears, South Carolina Stingrays and Greenville Swamp Rabbits They will be joined by eight other ECHL teams in playing full 72-game seasons.

Having the opportunity to play a full season will give the fans 36 home games and offer the full chance for the players to develop their skills.

“It is important for our fans and for our organization, but also for our players,” Icemen president Bob Ohrablo said. “Remember, our players are developing, and hockey players especially don’t have long lifespans, you know, so in terms of their career, so you know, a last year of development would really be harmful.”

Exactly how the gameday experience will be for fans at the Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena is still a work in progress, but Ohrablo said the focus would be on health and safety.

“We don’t normally use the upper level of the building, except for the big games,” Ohrablo said. “So I think what we’re going to do now is, is we’ll open a lower level to the capacity of around somewhere between 3700 and 4000. And then for the bigger games, whether it’s opening night or some of the Saturday dates we have, and we feel we’re going to go over that, then we’ll open the upper level and give us another couple of 3,000 seats. We’re working to building this week, actually, I’m coming up with COVID seating plan.

"Our goal is to make sure that we can get as many fans in as possible, but that it’s safe, that it’s we don’t want our fans getting sick, we don’t want our players getting sick, our staff getting sick. And really that’s going to be the key driver is how do we make this safe for as many people as possible. "

Other teams in cities with limitations on large group gatherings will begin the season on Jan. 15 and play a 62 game season. Playoff participation will be determined by winning percentage rather than the traditional points system. One team, the Atlanta Gladiators, will skip the season under what the league is calling a “Voluntary Suspension” for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 restrictions.