The puck stops here.
Tuesday afternoon the puck literally stopped in mid-air for Roanoke Rail Yard Dawg fans and players. There will be no ice hockey for the upcoming season for the Dawgs.
The team announced that the franchise will opt out of the 2020-21 season, joining fellow Southern Professional Hockey League members, the Quad City Storm, Peoria Rivermen, Evansville Thunderbolts and Fayetteville Marksmen, all of which took the same route.
Left to play an abbreviated 42-game regular season that will begin December 26th were the Macon Mayhem, Pensacola Ice Flyers, Birmingham Bulls, Huntsville Havoc and Knoxville Ice Bears.
“Today is a tough day for the team,” Rail Yard Dawgs President Mickey Gray said. “We have been working diligently to attempt to have a season, but unfortunately due to the current conditions and restrictions we simply cannot. Virginia is still in Phase 3, which limits all gatherings, including hockey games, to 1,000 people. The SPHL gave all teams a decision deadline and we had to make the best decision for our organization long term, which is opting out of the season.”
The Rail Yard Dawgs, whose income flow comes from normal game-related revenue like tickets, jersey auctions, concessions and more, found the 1,000-person limitation unfeasible for successful operations. The Dawgs had averaged well over 3,000 fans per game in previous seasons at the Berglund Center.
“The Rail Yard Dawgs will be back for the 2021-22 season; there is absolutely no question about that. We are already preparing for it,” Gray noted. “We have seen a tremendous amount of community support over the past seven months, but our battle isn’t over yet. We will endure the coming months without our normal game-related revenue. Our hope is that fans and supporters continue to rally around the team during this challenging time.”
According to the SPHL, all players named to a protected list or signed to a training camp will become free agents, however the five teams not playing will be able to retain the rights to their protected list players for the 2021-22 season.
“This is a tough day for the SPHL, particularly because the circumstances that forced these decisions are out of our control,” SPHL Commissioner Doug Price noted Tuesday. “When we were forced to suspend play back in March, we immediately turned our focus to the upcoming 2020-21 season. We waited as long as possible for things to improve so that all of our teams could play this season, but I don’t think any of us imagined we would still be facing these restrictions seven months later.”
Rail Yard Dawgs season ticket holders and corporate partners who have purchased packages for the 2020-21 season can find information concerning the credit and refund process via the Rail Yard Dawgs website.
“We want to thank our fans, partners and Rail Yard Dawg ownership for getting us through this ordeal,” Gray said. “It’s because of them that we will endure this, and that we will return for the 2021-22 season and beyond in the Roanoke Valley.”