Tom Garrity didn’t have any sort of manual to consult when determining a plan of action for a global health crisis.
And the United States Hockey League president and commissioner certainly hopes he isn’t in the process of establishing one for the future.
The USHL on Thursday afternoon followed the lead of several other major sports leagues in suspending its season out of health concerns regarding the coronavirus outbreak. Garrity, the USHL’s president and commissioner since May 2018, hopes the league can resume its season at some point.
“There’s no playbook on this,” Garrity said Friday morning. “I kind of hope we’re not writing the playbook on it, to be honest, and this isn’t the first of a bunch of things to come down the pike. The real thing we’re doing is we’re approaching this day-to-day, and, possibly more accurately, hour-to-hour. We are learning and we are trying to put together a good approach for all that are involved.
“Hopefully, in my lifetime, I never have to use a playbook like this again. If it’s a playbook, I hope it’s a one-time game. But this is life. We love our game and we want to be playing, and we hope to be back playing when we’re ready to roll here. That’s why we didn’t cancel our season. We’re still optimistic that there’s an opportunity for us to see how this thing works out, we’ll get our fans back and everyone will feel safe.”
The USHL’s Board of Directors put the best interest of athletes, staff, officials and fans in mind in making the decision to pause its season. Garrity presided over an emergency teleconference with USHL owners on Thursday, and their decision was unanimous.
“Credit to our owners,” said Garrity. “Things like this can really galvanize a league, and that’s exactly what it’s done. We had a group of owners who decided it wasn’t about money. It was about what was the right thing to do.
“Suspending games has a financial impact, not only to the teams but to the league. That wasn’t the focus. The focus was the safety of our players, our staffs and the fans and what’s the right thing to do in the community. When it’s deemed safe, we’ll resume our season”
All hockey-related activities, including practices, workouts and meetings have been suspended by the USHL until further notice, and the majority of the league’s players have been sent home. Players still enrolled in local high schools or European players facing global travel bans will remain with their billet families.
“You’d rather be safe than sorry,” Dubuque Fighting Saints general manager Kalle Larsson said Thursday. “If this prevents the potential spread of the virus, then absolutely it’s the right thing to do.
“It’s something that’s out of our control, so you can’t be upset about it. It’s a bummer, but that’s life. It is what it is.”
Garrity said the USHL has been in contact with representatives of USA Hockey, the National Hockey League and the Center for Disease Control for several weeks. Most recently, the USHL began to monitor the actions of sports leagues in Europe who resorted to playing games in empty stadiums.
But, as has been the case with North American professional leagues and the NCAA, everything changed Wednesday night when Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus.
“It’s all about safety,” Garrity said. “We all want to play games, but our league has players who are 16- to 20-years-old. When you saw the NBA had a player who got it, and they started to have to quarantine other franchises that individual played against … that’s kind of scary.”
“On top of that, we were equally concerned about our fans and staff. It came down to this is the right thing to do. Let’s put a pause on it. We’re not cancelling the season. We’re going to put a pause on it and see what we can learn and see how this thing evolves globally with the hopes of relighting and finishing our season.”
Garrity hasn’t put a timetable on resuming the season. But, he expects to discuss it with key personnel, including local community leadership, on a daily basis.
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