The Sports World comes to a screeching and sudden halt

Marc Elliott

1919 Stanley Cup Final cancelled  due to Spanish Flu epidemic..
1919 Stanley Cup Final cancelled due to Spanish Flu epidemic..

LEVEAUX MOUNTAIN… As I sat before the TV screen this morning, the NHL Network was running a summary of all of the effects that the Coronavirus (COVID-19) is having on the world of ice hockey. One by one the leagues were all listed with an update on their status listed after the name of the league. Every league in North America outside of the National and American Hockey Leagues has halted their regular season play and have also called off their playoffs for this season. They will all conclude without having awarded their leagues Championship. Both the NHL and AHL have “suspended” their regular season play with hopes of resuming at some point if the dangers of the viral pandemic lessen to the extent that it would once again be safe to do so, and then would move into the playoff season. All other regular season hockey and playoffs have been called off and their seasons are considered to be over. 

The NCAA Mens and Womens D1 and DIII tournaments, playoff and Frozen Fours have been called off. All IIHF Mens and Womens events and tournaments have been cancelled except the Men’s Worlds in May. USA Hockey and Hockey CANADA have cancelled all upcoming events and tournaments. All Youth and School related Ice Hockey has been cancelled too, and likewise for all European Leagues. The KHL has been dragging it’s feet a bit in deciding what to do, as they are in the middle of their 8 team Conference semifinals. But now, one team has pulled out as a result of concerns over the situation and this might force the league to make a decision that they apparently had been hoping not to make. The last I heard on them was that they were expected to announce that they too were suspending and cancelling the remainder of the season/playoffs, but that was at 3AM this morning and they have posted no further statements since then.

This has, with little doubt whatsoever, been an abrupt lifestyle alteration. I mean, this beautiful game has been a big part of my life from 6 years old forward, and from my teen years on, a major obsession. Whether I had been playing, coaching or simply being a fan of the game, (at perhaps a maniacal level) this is easily half of my annual activity. And now? Cold turkey anyone? And I’m not talking about a sandwich here. The NHL Network and SAT radio are doing their best at filling in with hockey content, documentaries, and in keeping everyone up to date, but there are no games. We were on the precipice of entering those last dozen tilts, those games that were going to either secure a playoff spot for one’s favorite club, or have you suffer through an offseason of having not made it in. And our club, the WILD were right in the thick of it. It was going to be a tough go but I was warming to their chances to get in. And now?

Much uncertainty abounds. The NHL is keeping an open mind regarding a resumption of play at some point, but won’t commit to that unless the health and safety of its players, employees and fans can be assured. The ‘A’ will likely follow the NHL’s lead, but we are in uncharted waters at this point. We have no idea when, or even if the season might resume. There is no guide book or “Pandemic management for Dummies” literature available. So we wait. And we hope that people entrusted with making intelligent informed decisions about this will do just that. Resuming any season at any level is secondary to protecting the population at large and staying on top of the situation if not a step ahead of it. I’ve read about it and have decided to simply lay low at this point and not take any unnecessary risks. Hopefully the situation will not last long and will have minimal effect. I’ll hold hope that you, your families and friends will be happy and healthy, safe and sound...

THIS ISN’T THE FIRST time the NHL or the world of sports has dealt with a public health crisis though. In 1918 there was a global epidemic of the Spanish Flu. It began in January of 1918 and was present until December of 1920. Roughly 500mil people were infected of which estimates of 17 to 50mil, on up to 100mil fatalities worldwide were attributed to the illness. A member of the Montreal Canadiens, “Bad” Joe Hall, contracted the flu in April of 1919, then developed pneumonia as a result, which took his life. Some of his teammates were infected as well and the league called off the impending Stanley Cup Final that year. They were in Seattle to take on the Metropolitans in the Cup Final, and some of the Met’s were ill also, but Hall was the only fatality having passed away only 4 days after the league cancelled the series. Hall appeared in 4 Cup Finals, and was on the winning club 3 times. He was inducted into the HHOF in 1961 posthumously. This obviously was a very sad end for Hall and if you embrace hockey history or enjoy stories about “old time hockey”, I would encourage you to do some digging into the story of Hall before he passed away. To say he was a “colorful” character would be inadequate…

 THE REST OF THE WORLD of sports was also impacted by that epidemic, especially pro baseball in general and MLB in particular. The league lost several members of the media as well as business support staff, umpires and players, some of whom were prominent in the day. While it would be hard to imagine an impact of the magnitude of that epidemic in today's world with the advances in medical science since then, along with our ability to communicate electronically around the globe in seconds to educate, inform and protect the public, it is not a given that it couldn’t happen. There is a specific percentage of the population that are still uneducated or ignorant of the necessities of strategic personal and public hygiene and cleanliness in the scheme of things. With global travel cheap and affordable, today’s cold or flu in the USA could be tomorrow’s illness at another location on the planet. And once that occurs it just spreads from there. We all have to do our part…

AS EVERY DAY passes, the thought of the NHL finishing the regular season and holding a Cup tourney becomes more and more muddled. I know Commissioner Gary Bettman would love to be back up and running, but I also know he will be smart and protective of everyone involved in the sport we all love. I KNOW there is a hockey heaven, I just don’t want to see it or lace em’ up there anytime soon… PEACE