The Komets and Toledo Walleye have been granted more time.
According to the Walleye's website, the ECHL’s Board of Governors and the Professional Hockey Players’ Association approved a plan for the Komets and Walleye to now target February start dates, after both teams had been gearing toward Jan. 15 starts for almost two months.
The extra time gives the coronavirus more time to settle down, a vaccine to perhaps become available and, if they do play, would limit some of the potential financial losses for teams that draw the most fans in the ECHL.
Last season, Fort Wayne averaged a league-best 8,090 fans and Toledo was second with 7,448 per game.
While the decision leaves open the possibility for hockey in Fort Wayne and Toledo, the news was tempered by announcements by division-rivals Kalamazoo and Cincinnati that they were opting out of the season. The Idaho Steelheads also opted out today.
Eleven of the ECHL’s 26 teams -- including Atlanta, Norfolk, Newfoundland, Reading, Brampton, Maine, Adirondack and Worcester -- have opted out.
Meanwhile, 13 teams are slated to begin play this week. Among those teams are the Indy Fuel and Wheeling Nailers, members of the Central Division with Fort Wayne, Toledo, Kalamazoo and Cincinnati.
If the Komets do end up playing come February -- still considered a long shot -- it seems as if they’d have to play the bulk of their undetermined number of games against Toledo, Indy and Wheeling because ECHL teams are trying to limit the number of long road trips that would require hotel stays amid the pandemic.
The Komets couldn’t be reached for comment.
Walleye coach Dan Watson said, per his team’s website: “We are grateful to be given the opportunity to play and understand this season will be like no other. During this time I will continue to work with the ECHL to ensure our return to the Huntington Center is done with the utmost adherence to the health and safety protocols necessary for our team's well-being.”
The Komets have 22 players signed for this season, highlighted by Shawn Szydlowski, A.J. Jenks, Marco Roy, Olivier Galipeau and Fort Wayne-natives Blake Siebenaler and Jackson Leef.
The Komets were approved to have 3,830 fans per game by the Allen County Department of Health in October, a number well short of the approximately 4,500 fans the Komets feel they need to break even financially. However, COVID-19 cases have dramatically increased since October and public gatherings are capped at 100 people currently.
The Komets cannot apply for 3,830 fans again until 30 days before games would begin.