Quad-Cities hockey fans will have to wait a little longer to get back to the ice.
The Southern Professional Hockey League announced Tuesday it is targeting a mid-to-late December start for the 2020-21 season, postponing the season at least two months from its normally scheduled October commencement in response to the coronavirus.
The Quad-City Storm is one of 10 teams in the league, which is spread out among eight states in the Midwest and the southeastern part of the country.
"With the continued spikes in COVID-19 throughout the country and the challenges other sports are facing in their attempts to resume play, delaying our start to December gives us the best chance of completing an entire season with all 10 teams," commissioner Doug Price said.
"In addition," Price continued, "various state restrictions on large gatherings and the economics surrounding the uncertainty of having fans in our arenas in October or November, even at reduced capacity, make it difficult for teams to guarantee the ability to generate the revenue needed to operate if we were to start any earlier."
The 2019-20 season was canceled in March as a result of the pandemic. However, the SPHL is the first of the North American minor hockey leagues to announce plans for a return.
"We are in full support of the league pushing the date back that far," Storm director of communications and operations Brian Rothenberger said. "We are dying to get hockey games back; the season being cut short feels like a long time ago but we still very much have that feeling of the rug getting yanked out from under us and wanting to get that going, but, the enjoyment of hockey games is very low on the list of priorities right now behind the health and safety of the players and fans."
The Storm have been active this offseason in recruiting for next year and plan to begin announcing player signings next week.
"Obviously, it's nice to know they're planning and making sure it's safe for everyone, not just the players but the fans," Storm head coach Dave Pszenyczny said. "Hopefully by December, everything will be figured out, we'll get a hold of this virus and get back to some normalcy."
Despite the uncertainty, ticket packages are on sale for the Storm, and Rothenberger emphasized the team will be flexible on responding to what the league decides when it comes to the start and length of the season.
"I encourage anyone who wants to see hockey this season to buy tickets now and secure their seats," Rothenberger said. "Everything is refundable. If they purchase a ticket package of any size ... and for whatever reason the season doesn't happen or there are less games played, they're not going to lose all the money they put down."
The league will announce the regular season and playoff format at a later date.
"After a healthy discussion among our board of governors, we just felt there are too many variables out of our control at this time to attempt starting on time," Price said. "Delaying the season was a difficult decision, but I believe it was the responsible thing to do when taking everything into consideration."