Syracuse, N.Y. — Syracuse Crunch players arrived at the Upstate Medical University Arena on Thursday morning knowing something in their routines was about to change.
They weren’t quite sure what, but they heard the NBA had suspended its season the night before to help mitigate against the spread of the coronavirus. The NHL was certain to follow.
“We knew something was going to happen,” Syracuse defenseman Cameron Gaunce said Thursday evening. “What, and to what effect? We weren’t sure.”
Indeed, the NHL suspended play indefinitely Thursday morning. A couple hours before the Crunch’s scheduled noon practice, the players were told that the workout was off and they should go home.
Thursday afternoon, the AHL’s board of governors held a brief conference call and decided that their league was packing it up for now, too. Until further notice, there will be no more games, practices or team workouts. And the schedules of players who thrive on following tight routines were tossed into uncertainty.
“It’s been a lot of chaos, from start to finish,” Gaunce said. “I think it’s kind of the same as what’s going on in the rest of the country. No one really knows.”
According to Syracuse owner Howard Dolgon, whose team has 12 regular season games left, the only clarity of the day was that the schedule had to be halted. The health of the players, fans and arena workers is paramount.
“Athletes, they want to perform. Fans want to watch them perform. Nobody’s in a position where they want to be right now,” Dolgon said. “Right now, it’s important to do what’s responsible.”
What the rest of the season, if there is any more at all, looks like is a big question mark right now. Dolgon said there’s been no discussion of shortening or extending the regular season or altering the playoff format, which currently includes 16 teams. The building availability of all the teams is a large ‘X’ factor to any changes.
Gaunce and his teammates, meanwhile, have been asked to stay away from the rink but remain in town. He said he expects he and his teammates will likely get together for social gatherings. He isn’t sure how individual workouts might go, or how the players will maintain a competitive edge during a layoff of unclear length.
“I guess that’s what every team and every player is going to have to try and figure out for themselves,” Gaunce said. “We need to do everything we can to stay ready both mentally and physically.”
Dolgon said his staff will soon start formulating ticket refund strategy for the lost or rescheduled contests. But like everything else right now, that, too, is an issue shrouded in fog.
“Right now, it’s impossible to predict what comes next,” Dolgon said. “We are in such unchartered waters here. I think we are going to learn more day by day on the virus itself and how we’re going to handle it as well.”