The American Hockey League is planning for a Feb. 5 start date, paving the way for the Chicago Wolves and Rockford IceHogs to return to the ice early next year.
In a press release, the league announced that the Board of Governors approved a structural framework for the season to get started on that date, while final details are still being worked out.
“Details are still being worked out, but this step allows our teams and their National Hockey League partners to better determine their plans for the coming season,” AHL CEO Scott Howson said in a statement.
The AHL has been out of action since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic. It has been unclear whether the league would be willing or able to resume operations without the ability to have fans in the stands, and while it’s not known whether the league intends to allow teams to allow fans inside of arenas to start the year, there is growing optimism that some level of normalcy is achievable as the coronavirus vaccine continues to be distributed.
Further details, including potential realignment to reduce travel or other scheduling alterations, have not been announced at this time.
The NHL's schedule was reduced to 56 games for the 2021 season, and teams will play two or three games at a time in each city to help cut back on the number of road trips that the clubs will have to take during the season, so it seems likely the AHL will adhere to a similar structure.
Currently, the NHL is allowing teams to put together rosters of up to 23 players, with six additional players making up a so-called “taxi squad.” Those squads will travel with teams, and all players on those teams will be eligible to be called up to the NHL in the event of an injury or a coronavirus diagnosis to one of the 23 players on the NHL roster.
When the 2019-20 season was stopped, the Wolves and IceHogs both had 62 points and were tied for fourth place in the AHL’s Central Division.
The Wolves have changed affiliates during the league’s stoppage, as the team is now partnered with the Carolina Hurricanes. The IceHogs remain affiliated with the Blackhawks, as they have been since the 2007-08 season.