After months of postponements and delays because of concerns about the coronavirus, the date for the Watertown Wolves season opener has been finalized.
The Wolves are set to open their Federal Prospects Hockey League season by playing four games in four days against in-state rival Elmira, beginning on Feb. 3 in Watertown.
The Wolves will host Elmira in their season opener on Wednesday, Feb. 3 at Watertown Municipal Arena, in likely an early-afternoon game.
After hosting the Enforcers that Thursday in what will likely be a night game, the Wolves will travel to Elmira for games the next two nights on Feb. 5-6.
“Being able to finally get to play real games is amazing,” Wolves majority owner Andreas Johansson said. “We’ve got such a great group here and we’ve all been waiting for long, we just can’t wait to hit the ice.”
Only the first week of the season has been scheduled for both teams, which will likely face one another again in the next week of play.
Johansson said the team and league schedule beyond the second week is still being worked out.
“We may have to play Elmira again, as some teams can’t travel right now,” he said. “Right now, it’s to be determined.”
The league season, which usually gets under way in early November, was postponed on two occasions because of the coronavirus, first to early December and then to Jan. 15.
The league on Dec. 30 announced it was targeting a Feb. 3 start date then followed with Tuesday’s announcement.
Elmira and Watertown are two of six teams believed to be playing this season along with Carolina in North Carolina, Columbus (Ga.), Danville (Ill.) and Port Huron (Mich.).
But the Wolves and Enforcers will be the only two teams playing during the first week of the season.
“When other member teams receive clearance to compete, a more inclusive schedule shall be presented,” the league announced on Tuesday.
With the league committed to a staggered start to the regular season, the start of the season remains on hold for teams like Columbus.
“With the current New York state restrictions regarding travel and quarantine, these teams could only play each other or face a lengthy quarantine that would disrupt the season,” the Columbus team announced on its web site.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions in the state, both Watertown and Elmira won’t be able to play in front of fans to start the season in either the Wolves’ home venue, or at First Arena in Elmira.
“Obviously we wish we could play games in front of the greatest fans in hockey, and we can’t wait until we are allowed to play with fans in attendance, too,” Johansson said.
“COVID and the travel regulations have necessitated more interstate play in New York and we are optimistic that though it may not appear as a normal FPHL season we will be able to get back to games with a full crowd capacity in the near future,” the Elmira Enforcers announced in a press release. For now, Wolves games will be televised live on the team’s YouTube channel, while team management is hopeful fans will be allowed to attend games in some capacity later on during the season.
Watertown and Elmira will also be playing each other “for the right to claim the New York Cup,” the league also announced on Tuesday.
The two teams faced one another 11 times last season with the final meeting on March 12 in Elmira, which proved to be the last game in the league that season as on March 16 the league canceled the season and playoffs because of the coronavirus.
The Wolves and Enforcers will also meet three times in the preseason. After each team holds it training camp earlier in the week, Watertown will host Elmira in a preseason game at 7:05 p.m. on Jan. 29, the two teams will play the next two days in Elmira, at 7:05 p.m. and 4:05 p.m. on Jan. 30-31, respectively.