Local hockey fans will have to wait deep into the holiday season before they see any live skating this year.
The Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs announced Tuesday that the opening of their 2020-21 SPHL season has been pushed back to December, buying the league time in the hopes that the COVID-19 pandemic will improve.
“The landscape has been ever-changing, and right now, cases are still surging,” Dawgs president Mickey Gray said. “We looked at mid-to-late December as the best opportunity for our team and the league to have a full season with spectators in the stands.”
The Dawgs opened on Oct. 18 last year in a season that was suspended on March 12 due to the pandemic. The campaign ultimately was canceled with seven regular-season games remaining.
The league intends to play its entire 56-game schedule in 2020-21 as usual, Gray said, but it’s not known yet how long the regular season would extend into the spring of ’21.
The Dawgs’ offices have remained open throughout the summer, selling season tickets and corporate sponsorships.
“There’s certainly been a few people who have been on the fence or have their own health concerns or what have you,” Gray said. “But as always, the support of our season-ticket and corporate base has been phenomenal. I think that they know that their investment here is safe. The Rail Yard Dawgs, the McGinn family, the local ownership — we’re going to be here. I don’t think that there’s any real worry about that.”
The NHL is slated to return to play Saturday in two Canadian hub cities. That league has targeted Dec. 1 for the start of its 2020-21 season.
While the SPHL has no direct affiliation with the NHL, the minor leagues typically stagger their starts after the NHL, with the AHL starting a week after the NHL, the ECHL launching one week after that, and the SPHL beginning a week after the ECHL.
The Dawgs spent several weeks in the spring reaching out to fans to handle the home games that were lost. Fans who wanted refunds got them, while others applied their credit to the upcoming season.
“Every dollar was accounted for, and that’s how it’s going to continue to be,” Gray said. “I think there’s a lot of confidence in us. We haven’t had any issues with anything like that. But like everybody right now, the world has changed. Everybody is aware of that now.”
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