A week ago, the Quad City Storm were gearing up for the final stretch and hoping to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Sunday, their fates were taken out of their hands.
The Southern Professional Hockey League announced its board of governors voted unanimously to cancel the remainder of the 2019-20 regular season and the playoffs.
The announcement comes three days after the league announced it was postponing operations due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, and one day after the ECHL announced it was also canceling its season.
"It was inevitable, looking at every other hockey league and sports in general, shutting down, taking the precautionary measures to make sure this thing doesn't spread any further," Storm head coach Dave Pszenyczny said.
The league was scheduled to hold a meeting Monday to determine plans moving forward but the decision to shut the season down was made Sunday afternoon.
"We probably all saw this coming, it's just moving at a faster pace than we imagined," Storm president Gwen Tombergs said.
SPHL commissioner Doug Price sent out a statement following the decision:
"The decision made to cancel the remainder of the regular season and playoffs was extremely difficult. ... But what was not difficult was knowing it was absolutely the responsible decision. It was a decision for our players, coaches and game officials. It was a decision for our fans, team staff and arena personnel.
"What we are all facing right now is bigger than the SPHL, bigger than hockey and bigger than sports."
The Quad City Storm had 12 games remaining in their season and were tied for the eighth and final playoff spot. They had shown potential all year of possibly making a run, beating every team ahead of them in the standings at least once.
Now, like many other athletes around the country, they'll be left wondering what could have been.
"Twelve games, that's a lot of hockey, that's 24 points, maybe could have caused some separation in the standings, but who knows?" Pszenyczny said. "I just think at the end of the day, anything can get taken away from you in a split-second. ... I guess you just can't take anything for granted."
The TaxSlayer Center announced Friday it was suspending all events for 30 days, leaving the Storm without a home rink in the final month of the season. That was a decision echoed by the Peoria Civic Center as Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered events that would draw more than 1,000 attendees to be suspended for 30 days.
The Center for Disease Control also announced Sunday that it is recommending the cancellation of events with gatherings of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks.
"With state mandates already preventing multiple teams from playing until at least May 1 and the uncertainty surrounding what additional restrictions may be forthcoming, we needed to take a step back and focus on the safety of those who make the SPHL great, from players to parking attendants," Price said. "Jeopardizing even one person’s health in an attempt to continue the season is not a risk we were willing to even remotely consider."
The Storm announced that sponsors, groups and season-ticket holders will be contacted by the team's front office this week. Anyone who bought single-game tickets online through Ticketmaster will be automatically refunded within five to seven business days and tickets purchased through the box office must be returned to the TaxSlayer Center for a refund.
The Storm also announced its front office is not currently allowing visitors. Any questions can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or citizens can call the front office at 309-277-1364.
Tombergs stressed that tickets must be returned at their point of purchase and the front office will be accommodating due to the adverse circumstances.
"We're asking for our fan support and patience as we get to them individually, and if there are options other than a refund, that would be greatly appreciated," Tombergs said. "But everyone will be taken care of, no matter what."
The Storm held their exit interviews Sunday afternoon following the announcement.
Tombergs said the status of the player's remaining contracts has yet to be determined, but Pszenyczny said some players are already heading home, with some hailing from Canada, Latvia and Sweden.
"Where do we go from here?" Pszenyczny said. "I think there's a lot of uncertainty as far as how long this is going to be in effect, there are a lot of unknowns. But this season is done and we've just got to start looking forward to next season. It gives me a lot more time to recruit."
Still, it's a tough way for the season to end, not just for the Storm, but for a lot of hockey players around the world who have been affected by this global crisis.
"Some guys may have played their last games ever," Pszenyczny said. "I'm not saying on our team, but at the collegiate level, professional, major junior level, it's hard to put in words, to know if that's going to come to fruition or not but I think for everybody, it's about staying safe and getting this thing under control."
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