BIRD’S-EYE VIEW: A Sudden End
Blog #01 – March 24, 2020
by John Peterson
How do you sum up a season that never really ended?
Sure, the ECHL’s Board of Governors made the difficult decision to cancel the remainder of the 2019-20 hockey year March 14 due to the ongoing concerns surrounding COVID-19, the worldwide pandemic better known as the coronavirus.
But who could have predicted the last time the Kalamazoo Wings touched the ice this season would be a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to the Indy Fuel at Wings Event Center, two days before a highly anticipated Green Ice Weekend?
It doesn’t seem fair. It doesn’t feel complete. It wasn’t over yet.
But it was. It had to be.
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AS THE NEWS ROLLED IN
Eight hours before that final game, I sat across from K-Wings Governor and Director of Business Operations, Toni Daniels, for our monthly one-on-one conversation. These meetings are usually to catch up on how things are going, what I’m working on, and what ideas we had for upcoming events.
This time it was different. The meeting fell on a game day and our main concern was how our fans would react to a Green Ice Trifecta. Because of scheduling conflicts, we had to prep the ice early for the upcoming Green Ice Weekend and Thursday was not an option. It had to be painted before Wednesday’s game. This would mean a surprise third game played on Green Ice.
Turns out, that was the least of our concerns.
Our one-on-one conversation was cut short for an impromptu meeting involving several key decision-makers in our organization about how we should handle increasing concerns about the coronavirus.
A few ECHL teams had already put out statements that proper health and safety protocols were being administered in their facilities, but that events would occur as scheduled. Nobody seemed to know how serious the situation would get, us included.
I’ll admit, at first, I was stubborn. I thought this whole thing was overblown. Let’s go about it, business as usual. No need for a statement.
“If I’m wrong, I’ll make my bed and sleep in it,” I said.
We put out a statement that afternoon. Events would go on as scheduled. Additional health and safety measures were in effect, including the addition of extra hand sanitizers throughout the building and more thorough cleaning before and after games.
From the time the puck dropped at 7:00 p.m. to the final buzzer, I had done a complete 180-degree turn. I was wrong.
BIGGER THAN SPORTS
I finished my postgame show and signed off the air. It had been another valiant effort, yet another disappointing loss. The K-Wings ran into hot goaltending for the second straight game, falling ten points out of a playoff spot with 11 games remaining.
I looked down at my phone.
“The NBA suspends its season after a player tests positive for coronavirus.”
Tomorrow was going to be a long day. Right then, in my gut, I knew we had played our final game of the season.
As I walked out to my car, I stopped by Equipment Manager Mitch MacLeod’s office and half-jokingly said, “Well, see you next season.”
Normally I’d head home after games and work on our team notes and player bios, updating stats and preparing for the next game until the early hours of the morning. This time I didn’t bother. I had a feeling it would be a waste of time. Plus, I needed a decent night of sleep.
Thursday would be a long day. A day I’ll never forget.
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HURRY UP AND WAIT
We all knew what was coming. The NHL scheduled a meeting Thursday afternoon to determine whether to follow the NBA’s lead. The only option at that point was to suspend the season. We assumed the AHL and ECHL would follow suit in that order. It was only a matter of time.
That day at the office was strange. Green Ice Weekend was the next day. The first of back-to-back sellouts, from all indication. 10,000 people would flock to Wings Event Center for the two games.
We all looked forward to seeing fans dressed in their St. Patrick’s Day green, enjoying green beers and watching the K-Wings play on Green Ice, a tradition that originated in Kalamazoo in 1982.
But as we waited for the dominos to fall, it was evident Green Ice Weekend might not happen at all.
First, the MLS suspended its season. Then, one-by-one, every college basketball conference tournament canceled play.
Finally, at 1:30 p.m. the NHL suspended play.
Start the clock. The rest of the day moved in fast-forward.
While the AHL decided its fate, the ECHL Board of Governors quickly gathered via conference call to discuss how to handle the situation. Our front office team waited. We tried to keep the mood light by telling stories, playing games and reading Tweets of more news stories rolled in about the sports world grinding to a halt.
At 4:00 p.m. the AHL suspended play. The ECHL was next. Our announcement would come at 5:00 p.m. We had an hour to debrief the staff, coaches, and players, as well as come up with a plan to share the league’s announcement and follow that up with the postponement of Green Ice Weekend.
It was stressful. It was heartbreaking. But it had to be done.
Later that evening, the NCAA canceled March Madness and all remaining winter and spring sports.
The entire sports world stopped in 24 hours.
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STAY HOME AND REFLECT
48 hours later, the ECHL became the first league to officially cancel the remainder of the season. Without getting too far into it, it had to be done. These are small businesses and to drag things along for an unknown amount of time during this constantly developing situation could be devastating to many of the league’s great markets.
So here we are. Like most of the rest of the country we’re practicing social distancing, realizing some things are far bigger than sports, supporting each other during difficult times and confident we’ll all get through this together.
This early off-season also allows us to reflect on so many great memories from a season cut short too soon. It provides us an opportunity to interact with our fans and those in the community, while looking forward to the 47th season of Kalamazoo Wings hockey next fall. Let the countdown begin.
Bird’s-Eye View is a Kalamazoo Wings blog, written by the team’s Director of Public Relations/Broadcaster John Peterson twice weekly. The thoughts, opinions and behind-the-scenes stories are that of the writer alone and not a reflection of the organization as a whole. Fans are welcome to submit questions and ideas for future blog posts to email@example.com. Enjoy!