Hershey Bears plan to compete in delayed American Hockey League season

STAFF AND WIRE REPORT
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The Hershey Bears will have a 2021 season.

The American Hockey League announced Monday that it will start its delayed league competition on Friday, Feb. 5.

The league will operate with 28 teams in 2021, with three franchises opting not to compete because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Based on the information I was getting, I wasn’t sure we were going to reach 28 teams even two weeks ago, but I think some of the teams got excited and found a way to make it work,” AHL president and CEO Scott Howson said by phone. “It’s a good day for the AHL, except for the three that can’t participate and obviously we know their reasons and they’re legitimate and they’ll move on and plan for ’21-22.”

The AHL will operate with five temporarily revamped divisions, with further details, including schedule formats and playoffs, still to be determined.

Hershey in Northern Division: Hershey, which is about 35 miles from York, is scheduled to play in the North Division with the Binghamton Devils, Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Rochester Americans, Syracuse Crunch, Utica Comets and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

The Bears have been an AHL member since the 1938–39 season, making them longest continuously operating member club of the league still playing in its original city. The Bears have been the primary development club for the NHL's Washington Capitals since the 2005–06 season.

The team, which plays its games in the 10,500-seat Giant Center, is owned by the Hershey Bears Hockey Club, which is a sub-division of the Hershey Entertainment and Resorts Company

Four teams on move, three opt out: Four AHL teams have been granted provisional relocations for the 2020-21 season: the Binghamton Devils will play in Newark, New Jersey.; the Ontario Reign will play in El Segundo, California; the Providence Bruins will play in Marlborough, Massachusetts; and the San Diego Gulls will play in Irvine, California.

The Charlotte Checkers, Milwaukee Admirals and Springfield Thunderbirds have elected to opt out of play for the 2020-21 season. All three teams will return to play in 2021-22.

“Unfortunately, the prospect of playing the season without fans and the lack of any revenue was too difficult to manage,” Admirals owner and CEO Harris Turer said.

Revenue will be reduced: Howson said only a few AHL teams currently would be able to host fans, which figure to include the Texas Stars and Tucson Roadrunners. Because of that, most are planning for significantly reduced revenue, which cost three teams this season. Still, having a season, albeit delayed, with 28 teams looks like a win for the league.

 “I think it just shows the cooperation between the NHL partner and the independent AHL team,” Howson said. “They all found a way to make it work and they all worked together in not easy times.”

The AHL suspended its 2019-20 season in mid-March because of the pandemic. The league announced two months later that it would not finish the season.

Typically, the AHL’s regular season begins in the first week of October.

The AHL serves as the top development league for all 31 NHL teams. Nearly 90 percent of today’s NHL players are AHL graduates, and more than 100 members of the Hockey Hall of Fame spent time in the AHL.