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NHL, AHL pause season ‘in light of ongoing developments resulting from the coronavirus’

MILWAUKEE — NHL and AHL officials placed the hockey season on ice — for now.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Thursday, March the league would “pause” its season, effective immediately, because of the coronavirus pandemic. The move came one day after the NBA suspended play after a player tested positive Wednesday for COVID-19. Later Thursday, MLB officials announced the suspension of spring training and the delay of the start of the season by at least two weeks.

NHL officials issued this statement Thursday:

“In light of ongoing developments resulting from the coronavirus, and after consulting with medical experts and convening a conference call of the Board of Governors, the National Hockey League is announcing today that it will pause the 2019-20 season beginning with tonight’s games.”

“The NHL has been attempting to follow the mandates of health experts and local authorities while preparing for any possible developments without taking premature or unnecessary measures. However, following last night’s news that an NBA player has tested positive for coronavirus — and given that our leagues share so many facilities and locker rooms and it now seems likely that some member of the NHL community would test positive at some point — it is no longer appropriate to try to continue to play games at this time.”

“We will continue to monitor all the appropriate medical advice, and we will encourage our players and other members of the NHL community to take all reasonable precautions — including by self-quarantine, where appropriate. Our goal is to resume play as soon as it is appropriate and prudent so that we will be able to complete this season and award the Stanley Cup. Until then, we thank NHL fans for your patience and hope you stay healthy.”

AHL officials issued this statement:

“With the health and safety of our players, officials, staff, and fans of primary importance, the American Hockey League has announced the suspension of play until further notice, effective immediately, due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“The AHL will continue to monitor developments and will provide updates on the 2019-20 season at the appropriate time.”

The Milwaukee Admirals issued this statement:

“With the health and safety of players, officials, staff and fans of primary importance, the American Hockey League has announced the suspension of play until further notice, effective immediately, due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

The AHL will continue to monitor developments and will provide updates on the 2019-20 season at the appropriate time.

“The health and well-being of our fans, players are and employees is, and has always been, our number one concern,” said Admirals Owner/CEO Harris Turer. “While we are disappointed that our games this weekend and in the near future will not be played, we know this is the right decision and when the time is right we look forward to getting back on the ice to pursue the Calder Cup.”

Fans who have tickets to upcoming games can receive refunds at the point of sale as the cancellations occur. Fans who have purchased tickets via credit card will have their charges automatically refunded. Full and half season ticket holders will have the money from cancelled games rolled over to playoff games or the 2020-21 season.

For more information on ticket refunds/exchanges fans should go to www.milwaukeeadmirals.com.”

“The NHL has been attempting to follow the mandates of health experts and local authorities while preparing for any possible developments without taking premature or unnecessary measures,” Bettman said. “However, following last night’s news that an NBA player has tested positive for coronavirus — and given that our leagues share so many facilities and locker rooms and it now seems likely that some member of the NHL community would test positive at some point — it is no longer appropriate to try to continue to play games at this time.”

The NHL Players’ Association backed the decision, calling it “an appropriate course of action at this time” and adding: “The players are looking forward to the opportunity to resume play in front of hockey fans everywhere.”

The NHL halted play with 189 games left in the season and uncertainty about how many more — if any — could be played before the playoffs, which typically begin in early April. A handful of European hockey leagues called off the remainder of their seasons.

“We will continue to monitor all the appropriate medical advice, and we will encourage our players and other members of the NHL community to take all reasonable precautions — including by self-quarantine, where appropriate,” Bettman said. “Our goal is to resume play as soon as it is appropriate and prudent, so that we will be able to complete the season and award the Stanley Cup.”

Numerous teams set to play road games were already finalizing plans to return home. The NHL preceded its decision by having all 31 teams cancel practices and pre-game skates. There were 10 games scheduled for Thursday night.

It was difficult to determine what steps teams or players could take in regards to practicing or even working out during the hiatus. For now, Martin Frk’s go-ahead goal 4:41 remaining in the Los Angeles Kings’ 3-2 win over Ottawa would stand as the final tally of the 2019-20 season.

The Stanley Cup has been awarded every year since 1893 with two exceptions: 1919, when the final was canceled after five games because of the Spanish flu outbreak, and 2005, when the season was called off because of a lockout.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.

The timing of the NHL’s decision followed a long series of disruptions across Asia, Europe, and North America, with sports competition curtailed or shelved because of concerns about the virus.

The NBA suspended its season after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 His teammate, Donovan Mitchell, also tested positive.

As of Thursday, NHL officials had not announced any player tested positive for COVID-19.

As of Wednesday, the NHL did not have a leaguewide declaration about even potentially holding games in arenas without fans in the stands. The Columbus Blue Jackets became the first team to take that step, saying their games would go on with attendance “limited to home and visiting club personnel, credentialed media and broadcast partners, essential club and arena staff and NHL officials.” The San Jose Sharks then said their home games in March would go on without fans.

Other hockey competitions also called off:

— The NWHL postponed its Isobel Cup final scheduled for Friday night in Boston but did not give a new date.

— A person with direct knowledge of discussions told The Associated Press a recommendation was made to the IIHF to cancel the men’s world championships in Switzerland. The IIHF canceled the women’s worlds, which were scheduled to open later in March in Nova Scotia.

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