Photo Credit: Tom Mitsos

NHL taking precautions amid coronavirus outbreak; could the AHL be next?

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The coronavirus outbreak has forced sports leagues and teams to cancel games to contain the spread.

ESPN reported on Saturday that the women’s ice hockey world championship that was scheduled for March 31-April 10 in Halifax and Truro, Nova Scotia was canceled due to the outbreak.

While the NHL or AHL has yet to cancel any games, the NHL announced Saturday that it will consider closing locker rooms to the media. Instead of media members interviewing players in the tight confines of a locker room, there would be a formal news conference area, much like the NHL does during the playoffs to accommodate the bigger media presence from the national outlets.

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“We’re focused on the fact that the tightness, the crowdedness and the intimacy of postgame availability may need to be adjusted while we’re focusing on the coronavirus,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told ESPN on Saturday.

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly did not rule out postponing or canceling games, or playing in games in empty arenas.

“I think it’s very unlikely — knock on wood, I’m hopeful — that we would progress to a stage where we have to consider something that dramatic,” Daly told ESPN. “But certainly everything is possible, and we have to look at all possible contingencies. If it gets to that point, we will be ready.”

With the NHL starting to take precautionary measures and hope for the best but plan for the worst, it seems likely the AHL will be following suit.

Fresh off a 3-0 win against the Rockford IceHogs on Saturday, Grand Rapids Griffins coach Ben Simon said he had not heard from league officials about implementing locker room protocols.

And while he hasn’t instituted any official precautions for his team, Simon said the Griffins are taking a “common-sense approach.”

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“Making sure we are taking care of our bodies, making sure that we are washing our hands when we can,” he said. “Not putting yourselves in comprising environments to compromise your immune system.”

Should the AHL opt to keep fans out of the stands, it wouldn’t be the first time an AHL game was played in an empty arena. Just two years ago, the Charlotte Checkers closed their arena to fans for a game against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers due to an impending snowstorm that brought 4 inches of snow to the Charlotte area, which put North Carolina under a state of emergency.

The Checkers social media team had all kinds of fun documenting the historic game, which sounded more like a practice.

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Simon said he hadn’t thought about coaching in an empty arena, but Pickard admitted playing in one would be “unique.”

“There are leagues in Europe that are doing that right now,” Pickard said. “Obviously, it would be a unique situation if that happened. But as of now, it was nice playing in front of an almost sold-out crowd, if it wasn’t sold out (on Saturday). We’ll take the fans for sure.”

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He added that as professional athletes who travel a lot, there already is an added emphasis on staying healthy, but this outbreak has only intensified that emphasis.

“You’re conscious of washing your hands, taking care of yourself, not touching everything,” Pickard said.

Matt Puempel said he isn’t worried about possibly playing in an empty stadium, but joked with media members who “snuck in” to the locker room after noting he heard about the NHL’s plans to ban media members from its locker rooms.

He agreed with Pickard in regards to being conscious of your surroundings.

“It’s not good what’s going on, but you gotta just wash your hands and do the best you can to not contract it,” he said.