The ECHL’s wait-and-see approach didn’t last long. The league determined Saturday night it would not resume play this season, two days after it had decided to suspend play because of COVID-19.
“It’s a sad day. In our 30 years (of owning the team), we’ve never not been playing on March 14,” Komets president Michael Franke said. “It is very, very strange and the entire circumstance of why we’re not playing is obviously scary. You just see that going around town each day, going to the drug store or the grocery store or whatever. It’s just a very scary time. I think this was the only decision that we can make.”
The ECHL held conference calls throughout Saturday before deciding the season wouldn’t be resumed – information that was released at 9 p.m.
“The decision by the ECHL to cancel the remainder of the 2019-20 season does not come lightly, as this is an emotional time for our players, coaches, member teams, fans and staff,” ECHL commissioner Ryan Crelin wrote in a press release. “At this point in the season, there has been immense dedication and countless hours committed in moving towards what is traditionally the most exciting part of the hockey year.”
The Komets had 10 games remaining in their 72-game regular season. This was their 68th season of play. They were in third place in the Central Division, at 31-23-8, and were likely to make the postseason for the seventh straight season.
The Komets led the 26-team ECHL in average attendance this season with 8,090 fans per game, including an announced crowd of 6,637 Wednesday when they defeated the Wichita Thunder 7-2, paced by Brady Shaw’s and Brett McKenzie’s two goals apiece.
Fort Wayne still had six games to be played at Memorial Coliseum in the regular season and was poised to have at least two home games in the postseason. The loss of revenue will be significant, especially for teams not as well off attendance-wise.
“This is a major blow to any team in the ECHL,” Franke said. “What are we losing? Six home games? It’s a major blow, you know, but it’s one of those things that, in all honesty, every business in the country for the most part is going to be facing with similar hardships because of the circumstance.”
Franke wouldn’t guess as to the financial impact for his team, other than to say: “It’s a considerable amount of revenue that will be lost over the next several weeks. Also, realize that we would have qualified for the playoffs, too.”
Information on what fans with tickets to cancelled games can do will be forthcoming and will from the points of purchase, namely the Komets, the Coliseum or TicketMaster.
Shaw ranked seventh in ECHL scoring with 27 goals and 62 points in 48 games. McKenzie had 23 goals and 60 points in 56 games. Shawn Szydlowski had 15 goals and 56 points in 55 games. Alan Lyszczarczyk was fifth among ECHL rookies in scoring with 19 goals and 46 points in 57 games.
The Komets had the league’s seventh-ranked offense (3.52 goals per game), the top-ranked power play (25.5%), and led the ECHL in penalty minutes (16.8 per game).
Neither Franke nor the ECHL fully explained the timing of the decision to cancel the remainder of the season.
“(Each) passing day raises additional concerns for the safety of those in the ECHL community and as we take precautionary measures in conjunction with our local authorities across the continent to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, it has become apparent that this is the prudent decision,” Crelin wrote.
“Our game and our product are based on our fans and their ability to cheer on their favorite ECHL team and players at one of our many facilities around the continent. Without that social environment and game atmosphere, the ECHL simply isn’t the same.”
The Komets will not hold their annual end-of-season party and jersey auction, which had taken place in all 30 years of the Franke family's ownership.