The Federal Prospects Hockey League has set a tentative date for its season to begin Dec. 18, according to league commissioner Don Kirnan.
The league, which includes the Watertown Wolves, had originally targeted a return to action in the first week of December.
“We can play in some states right now on a limited basis,” Kirnan said. “What’s happened is the AHL pushed their date back and the East Coast League did as well, so that’s when we pushed our date back.”
Concerns about the coronavirus pandemic had previously pushed the FPHL’s starting date to early December, as the league usually begins regular-season play in early November.
“We’re hoping that some of the restrictions at least loosen up a little bit,” Kirnan said. “As of right now, obviously we can’t do anything in November and we’re hoping that sometime in early December we’ll be given clearance from the state to have some fans.”
With a new start-up date, the league hopes each team will play a 46-game regular season, with playoffs beginning in April.
“We’re working on that right now because we had to switch things around,” Kirnan said. “We’re hoping that we can start as early as December, right around the holidays between Christmas and New Year’s have always been good dates, good times for people to go to the games, so we definitely want to get some games in during that period of time if we can do it.”
As of now the league will consist of eight teams, with two franchises, Delaware and Motor City, choosing to be dormant this season because of the coronavirus.
“We have eight teams out of 10 that can (play), they’re ready to play now, it’s just that they’re not allowed to play,” Kirnan said. “I’m hoping that sometime in December we’ll be given some kind of guidance, hopefully we’ll get 50 percent or more of the capacity, and I know Andreas (Wolvers owner Andreas Johansson) will work with that and Elmira will work with that also.”
The Federal Prospects Hockey League includes 10 teams in seven different states.
“We’re in a number of different states so I think we’ll be OK, it’s just that in some of our places we’re just not there yet,” Kirnan said. “I think by the end of November, we’d be OK with three or four of our teams, but we wouldn’t be OK with all of them.”
The FPHL, like most other minor-league teams, depends greatly on revenue created by attendance at games.
“It does create a loss for the owners, but they want to play,” Kirnan said. “We have eight owners that are willing to play with even limited capacity. If they have to take a loss, they’ll take a loss, they just want to play.”
New York state, which also includes Watertown’s chief rival, the Elmira Enforcers, is one the states that currently won’t allow fans to attend professional and many college sporting events.
“I know in Georgia we can play, in Michigan we can play,” Kirnan said. “North Carolina’s not ready, Connecticut’s not ready, New York’s not ready, in Ohio I think we could play there pretty soon, but not right now. ... and I think it’s the same in Illinois like New York.”
Kirnan continued: “Like movie theaters were approved for 25-percent (capacity), but he (New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo) restricted it to 50 people. So 50 people doesn’t really help us in the venue, so we need more than that.”
A definite league schedule has yet to be released and will be announced, if all goes well, after a league meeting between team owners and Kirnan in November, he said.
“I’m optimistic, I think what really helped us is the World Series starting (Tuesday) is going to have some fans,” Kirnan said. “Football has some fans and since March there hasn’t been fans since a month ago when football started. It’s a good thing that we’re starting to see fans and hopefully we get enough to where we can make it feasible to have a game.”
Last season, the FPHL, including the Wolves, had their season cut short in March with the emergence of the coronavirus as the league canceled the season on March 16, just three weeks before the playoffs were scheduled to start.
Watertown played 48 games in its 60-game schedule, with its last game being played on March 12 after it had already clinched a berth in the postseason.
Johansson, who purchased the team in the spring, is gearing up for his first season with the team.
“I’m happy that we have a ownership group in Watertown that’s ready to go as soon as we can and our two teams in New York are gung ho, both of the owners, including in Elmira, are chomping at the bit and they want to play as soon as they can,” Kirnan said. “So we’re just waiting for the restrictions to be lifted and if they do that, then we’ll be ready to go.”
The Wolves, who were to start their training camp in late November, are now slated to hold camp in December, Kirnan said.