The ECHL's wait-and-see approach didn't last long. The league determined Saturday night it would not resume 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 drugstore 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 canceling the remainder of the season.
“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, who were in their 68th year of play, had 10 games remaining in their 72-game regular season.
“I think everybody was more or less leaning toward this happening,” Fort Wayne coach Ben Boudreau said. “But ultimately, it's the nail in the coffin. First and foremost, you've got to start thinking about your players and what to do next. What's the next step? I think our first priority is a guy like Alan Lyszczarczyk and trying to (potentially) get him to Europe with travel bans already in effect. We've got to have exit meetings, we've got to have physicals, and get travel in place, and it's all going to happen pretty quick here.”
The Komets, who were 31-23-8, were poised to make the playoffs for a seventh straight year and had championship aspirations in Boudreau's first season as head coach.
“I don't think that part has even set in yet. This is all too real and you're going through it,” Boudreau said. “Once you get a few days away and guys have left town, I'm sure you'll sit down and the shock will actually set in. Right now, it just doesn't feel real. It's tough to describe any sort of emotion, but you just worry about the guys getting home. Me, my wife and my son, we all live here, but you want everybody else to get home safe to their families, too.”
The Komets led the 26-team ECHL in average attendance with 8,090 fans per game, including an announced crowd of 6,637 in their last game, 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 less financially stable as the Komets.
“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 is still to come on what fans with unused tickets can do. Information will come 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. 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).
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.