Good news: the 2020-21 AHL Season is expected to start on February 5th, which means that there will be some Providence Bruins hockey this winter into spring. Now for the bad news: the Bruins will not be playing at the Dunk for this season. The team is temporarily relocating to the New England Sports Center in Marlborough, Massachusetts for the season. The team does plan on returning to the Dunk for the 2021-22 season.
Unfortunately, the Dunkin Donuts Center is currently being used by the state of Rhode Island for various COVID-19 related initiatives and is unavailable for the season. The DCU Center in Worcester, Mass is also unavailable for the exact same reason as the Dunk. That leaves the New England Sports Center as the only viable option for the team. The Bruins will play the season with no fans in attendance.
You can wonder why the Providence couldn't strike a deal with their NHL affiliate in Boston to either play games at Warrior Ice Arena (Bruins practice facility in Brighton) or use TD Garden to play games while Boston would be out of town. The Binghamton Devils will be playing in Newark, New Jersey at the Prudential Center where their NHL affiliate New Jersey calls home for the season.
Although if any discussions were mentioned about playing at the Garden, chances are they were shot down due to COVID-19 related concerns.
H. Larue Renfroe said in a statement: "We welcome the Providence Bruins to the New England Sports Center for this season with no fans. We do so with a heavy heart as the team belongs at the Dunk, where we look forward to returning to next season and beyond. The Boston-Providence partnership is very strong and we are playing this season to support the Bruins as they play for a Stanley Cup." Boston Bruins president Cam Neely also said in a press release: "Thehe relationship between the Boston and Providence Bruins is critical to our player development and future seasons. Given the unprecedented circumstances, we are very grateful that the New England Sorts Center can host the team this season, and we look forward to the Bruins' return to Providence, not only for 21-22 season, but for many more to come."
The fact that the AHL will be having a season is a great sign for many players with NHL ties when it comes to the state of their contract. 28 of the 31 AHL franchises will play in realigned divisions to avoid constant travel throughout the states. Also given how the US-Canadien border remains closed for all non-essential travel, the AHL had to go the NHL route and form an all Canadien division.
The three teams that will not play this season are the Charlotte Checkers, affiliated with the Florida Panthers, the Milwaukee Admirals affiliated with the Carolina Hurricanes, and the Springfield Thunderbirds, who are now affiliated with the St. Louis Blues. All three teams have decided to opt out of the 2020-21 season and will resume operations for the 2021-22 season.
It has been a rough nine months for minor league teams across the country and minor leagues have had to either suspend or cancel seasons all together. Both the AHL and ECHL had to cancel their 2020 postseasons due to the pandemic. The MiLB was forced to cancel the entire 2020 season due the virus. Even major junior hockey leagues have had an extremely difficult time starting back up. The NBA G-League has yet to make a decision on how they will conduct their season.
Unlike the professional leagues, these minor league businesses rely heavily on fan driven revenue that comes from ticket and concession sales. Without any of that type of revenue being driven and no television expose, these leagues are subject to financial troubles for years to come.
The NHL, which is also driven by fans revenue when it comes to both ticket and concession sales, can get by due to merchandise being purchased daily and having National TV expose with NBC in the state and TSN in Canada. MLB, NFL and the NBA all have the bigger TV deals along with merchandise, ticket sales, etc. so those leagues can survive as well.
One thing that Rhode Island fans should remember, this is just a temporary move. Unlike the Paw Sox, the Bruins will be back in Rhode Island, playing hockey at the Dunkin Donuts Center very very soon.
Like the NHL, the AHL will have an abbreviated season this year beginning in early February and concluding in early May. More details about the upcoming season will be announced later. However, one thing that is certain, the AHL will also have realigned divisions to minimize travel.
Providence Bruin hockey will be back soon, just not in the same capacity as before. Fret not, in the very near future, we will be able to put this health crisis behind us and go cheer on all of our teams in stadiums and arenas everywhere.