El Paso Rhinos season canceled by WSHL due to COVID-19

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EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – The El Paso Rhinos will not get the opportunity to defend their Western States Hockey League (WSHL) title for a third consecutive season in 2020-21. The WSHL making the announcement on Tuesday they have canceled the upcoming season due to COVID-19.

The Rhinos are expected to make a statement regarding the WSHL’s decision to cancel the season in the coming days and would have no further comment at this time.

El Paso has won back-to-back Thorne Cup championships and were on a quest for a three-peat, but will now turn their attention to the 2021-2022 season.

WSHL Statement

As we all have learned over the last 10 weeks, there is a “New Normal” underway, that is yet to be clearly defined in a current or future narrative. The WSHL was one of the first sports organizations, on March 6th, to modify its operating procedures, schedule, and preparations for playoffs. The playoff schedule to begin on March 12 was amended, removing two Washington State teams from playoffs, due to the extreme surge of COVID-19 patients in the greater Seattle area. At the time, many fans, pundits, parents, players, and team representatives, alike, were utterly appalled by the decision. Subsequent to the initial decision by the Executive Committee of the WSHL, with concern for an abundance of caution for the safety of our players, staff, fans, families, etc., canceled the entire 26th Annual WSHL Thorne Cup Playoffs. Within hours of the WSHL’s decision, the NHL halted their own 2019-2020 season, reflecting the actions of other major sports leagues, worldwide.

Since then, we have been monitoring the constant medical reports, federal and state, provincial governments’ responses to COVID-19, and all of the restrictions implemented by them.  The majority of the variables which impact our sport and participation are still in effect, and will continue to be for an indefinite period of time.

Given that the WSHL has over 300 international players on its teams, plays regular season games internationally, has over 500 players living with our gracious host families, has bus travel to games that can exceed 12 hours, and the inability to social distance and wear medical type facemasks in training and/or game situations, the medical reasons alone make it a major safety issue.   Additionally, the logistics of operation, in uncertain times, is an unfathomable task for each team to undertake, as well as at a league level. The obvious potential liability for team owners in the face of COVID-19 requires significant consideration.

Currently, across Canada and the United States, very few ice rinks are open, and tryouts cannot be held. Even if they were open, the tryout would be minimized due to the governmental restrictions over crowd control. Nonetheless teams need to continue to recruit, which creates payroll and expenses, without any assured knowledge that the 2020-2021 season will start on-time, or start at all.  Medical predictions indicate the likelihood of a resurgence of COVID-19 as the Winter months approach. Given the current status of closed borders, it would seem optimistic, at best, to project that the required number of players, for Summer Tryout Camps or Fall Training Camps, would be able to lawfully attend.  As important is the very recent announcements by several universities and colleges, even minor pro leagues that likely they will not participate in the 2020-2021 season either which impacts the players advancing to higher levels without recruiting being done at the higher levels.

Lastly, with the current governmental restrictions that have slowed the economy, and put millions out of work in both Canada and the United States, teams become extremely vulnerable.  Operating in this financial climate could easily result in failure, based on potential losses or inability to generate ticket sales, sponsorship or advertising dollars, etc.  The aforementioned revenue streams are crucial to the success and sustainability of WSHL member clubs, and junior hockey clubs around the globe.

On the grounds that, currently, there is no known vaccine, accompanied by extremely negative medical conditions, economic pitfalls, and the forecast of a resurgence of COVID-19, which could again be cause to terminate the season, the WSHL, with an abundance of caution, must make an extremely difficult decision.

Based on the above reasons, and forecasted medical problems that could be ahead of us, the Board of Governors of the Western States Hockey League have voted to go dormant for the 2020-2021 season.  The WSHL will immediately start preparing for a return in 2021-2022 season.  This is the most burdensome and painful decision ever made at the WSHL Board of Governors level, however, we strongly feel that continuing operations in the current climate is not safe or conducive to the success of our member players, nor teams. 

We wish everyone health and prosperity, and we look forward to coming back stronger than ever! 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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