The top two men’s leagues in Switzerland have postponed their post-season and the first and second German Leagues announced Tuesday that the remainder of the season, including the entirety of the playoffs, has been cancelled, but the impact of the coronavirus on European hockey circuits doesn’t end there.
Over the past few days, several notable European leagues have seen their seasons come to an abrupt end amid the outbreak of COVID-19 and related quarantines and bans on mass gatherings and public events. Even prior to the announcement that Germany’s DEL and DEL2 had cancelled the remainder of their campaigns, the Austrian League (EBEL) announced that its 2019-20 campaign has come to a close as a result of public health concerns.
“March 10, 2020 is a sad day for clubs, players, match officials and above all the numerous fans of our Erste Bank Ice Hockey League,” a league statement read. “For months all stakeholders have been working intensively towards the season highlight, which we cannot experience now. However, we are currently experiencing an exceptional situation that affects many areas of our lives. Even if the decision hurts, we see it as our duty to make a contribution so that we can return to normal as quickly as possible.”
As of Wednesday, the Norwegian League (GET-ligaen) and Polish Leagues had also followed suit, cancelling their respective campaigns, as had the top Slovakian League (Tipsport Liga). The Slovakian League’s season was set to end Sunday with the post-season slated to begin in the coming weeks. However, due to a ban on major events, the decision was made to abandon the remainder of the campaign and leave the championship unclaimed this season. In a statement, the Slovak Ice Hockey Federation said financial considerations had to be made with regards to the cancellation, as it would be harmful economically to league clubs to play the post-season in empty arenas.
Despite the outright cancellations by several leagues, there are other top-flight competitions that have either postponed or not yet made clear how they will proceed with their seasons. Notably, Switzerland’s National League and Swiss League have pushed back the beginning of their respective playoffs, though the situation continues to be monitored. In addition, Denmark’s Metal Ligaen has suspended play, but said in a statement they intend to resume the campaign once the ban on events with more than 1,000 spectators is lifted.
Not yet known is how the Swedish (SHL) and Finnish Leagues (Liiga), as well as the KHL, will handle the ongoing situation. According to a report, the SHL plans to make an announcement on how it will proceed at some point Wednesday. Meanwhile, the KHL is battling a ban in Moscow on events with more than 5,000 people, but the league’s other clubs remain unaffected. The primarily Russian league is currently in the midst of its post-season, with five teams – CSKA Moscow, SKA St. Petersburg, Ak Bars Kazan, Barys Astana and Sibir Novosibirsk – having already advanced to the second round.
UPDATE: Following an earlier decision to postpone its postseason for two weeks, Switzerland’s top two leagues – the National League and Swiss League – have announced the cancellation of the remainder of their seasons.
In a statement, National League and Swiss League director Denis Vaucher said the circuits “have a responsibility to protect our players, club members and their health, and that is now a top priority.”
In addition to the cancellations of the top-flight pro leagues, the Swiss Ice Hockey Federation announced all major competitions throughout the country have been cancelled. Included are the remainder of the campaigns in U20 and U17 leagues, as well as the women’s league, senior leagues, youth leagues and more.
Elsewhere, the Swedish League announced post-season play will be postponed until at least March 24 due to the government’s decision to limit events with more than 500 spectators. Due to the delayed start of the playoffs, the SHL has also announced that the best-of-seven series will become best-of-fives, beginning with quarterfinal play, which is now slated to begin March 30.
In addition, the following updates have been provided by various leagues overseas:
• The KHL contest between Spartak Moscow and Dynamo Moscow is being played in an empty arena. According to a source, second-round games between SKA St. Petersburg and Jokerit Helsinki will not be cancelled, but played behind closed doors.
• The Czech League (Extraliga) has postponed play until March 29.
• The Finnish League (Liiga) will close remaining regular season games to the public. The Finnish Ice Hockey Association stated it will meet with government officials Thursday and make an announcement regarding next steps.
• The Danish League, which had previously intended to suspend play until the ban on events with more than 1,000 spectators, has made the decision to cancel the rest of its campaign.
Want more in-depth features and analysis? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.