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AHL cancels season for the first time in 83-year history

Evan Bouchard of the Bakersfield Condors celebrates a goal with Luke Esposito during the 2019-2020 season.
Evan Bouchard of the Bakersfield Condors celebrates a goal with Luke Esposito during the 2019-2020 season.

The American Hockey League, which started just before the Second World War, playing through the conflict, had its continual run come to an end by COVID-19 on Monday with the cancellation of the rest of the season.

The 31-team farm league is a fan-driven, ticket-sales exercise and there was no possibility they could play games in empty buildings like the NHL plans on doing if they start again, beaming games on TV to their hungry base.

For the Edmonton Oilers’ farm team in Bakersfield, sixth in the Pacific Division through 56 games and clearly out any playoff action, it’s no woe-is-us after a stirring 2018-2019 season that featured a 17-game winning streak, second longest in league history.

The Condors, beset with injuries for much of the season, had won one of the previous 10 games before the AHL pause in mid-March.

“The fans are the backbone of the organization … thank you Condorstown,” said Bakersfield forward Joe Gambardella on the team website.

Several farmhands will be recalled by the Oilers as taxi-squad players when and if the NHL starts up again, but for now, they haven’t said how many or who.

Out-going president Dave Andrews, who has fostered huge growth in the league in his 26 years at the helm, won’t be handing out the Calder Cup to the winning AHL club, which stings.

At the cancellation, the Milwaukee Admirals, Nashville’s farm club, had the best record at 41-14-5-3 for 90 points. Iowa Wild forward Sam Anas wins the scoring title with 70 points and his Minnesota farmhand teammate Gerry Mayhew finishes with the most goals with 39.

Not having a champion of a league that started in 1936-37 is a sour final note for Andrews, who is handing over the reins to Oilers head of player development Scott Howson July 1.

It’s anybody’s guess when the AHL will convene next season but it’ll be tied to win the NHL starts it’s 2020-21 season. Maybe November, who knows?

Andrews, who went to the AHL in 1994 after being Oilers farm director of hockey operations in Cape Breton, said in a statement he was grateful to the NHL and its teams for the, “support and leadership” in navigating through the last two months.

Andrews said the AHL, “continues to place paramount importance on the health and safety of our players, officials, staff, and fans and all of their families, and we all look forward to returning to our arenas in 2020-21.”

If the NHL and AHL were still up and running, each NHL club was allowed four call-ups from the farm after the February trade deadline. Now, they’re working out how many players the NHL clubs can add to taxi-squads when and if the NHL gets back because they’ll need bigger rosters to guard against injury after the NHL players have been off for two months already. Probably six or seven players.

Defenceman William Lagesson and Evan Bouchard for sure. Tyler Benson, Markus Granlund, who may have signed to play in UfA in the KHL for next season, Ryan McLeod and Brad Malone at forward. Stuart Skinner as a No. 3 goalie.

“We haven’t been given any direction (NHL headquarters) as to how many players we can add,” said Oilers assistant GM Keith Gretzky.

The Oilers had talked to possible farm call-ups awhile ago to make sure they were staying in shape.

“We need them prepared,” said Gretzky. “Even though Bakersfield wasn’t making the playoffs, with the AHL season over, we’re still losing regular-season games that young players like Bouchard, McLeod, Benson, (Dmitry) Samorukov, (Kirill) Maksimov could have had. It’s all part of the big picture.

“With playoffs you get a better read though. Last year, Bouchard came in (from junior) and played. McLeod came from the OHL and played. They started on the outside but with injuries and stuff they were playing more for us in a playoff environment in Bakersfield.”

This ’n that: Left-winger Tomas Jurco (hip surgery) was ready to skate when the AHL and NHL paused and would certainly have been a taxi-squad call-up but he hasn’t played a game in over five months … Betting is Oilers won’t bring back UFA farm goalie Shane Starrett, hurt (groin/core muscles) much of this past season, giving the ball to Skinner in Bakersfield. No word on where rookie Olivier Rodrique will start but it might be in the ECHL in Wichita where he could get most of the games. Olivier’s dad Sylvain is Oilers minor-league goalie coach … Farmhand No. 1 centre Cooper Marody (concussion) might have been able to play some late-season games if the AHL season hadn’t been called off. Marody, 23, going into the last year of his three-year contract, needs a big 2020-21 season after 64 points in 20-18-2019 and 17 in 30 games this past year … Oilers made a substantial offer to farmhand unrestricted winger Josh Currie (51 goals last 109 games) but haven’t heard back. Another NHL team with a farm club in Pacific Division will probably sign him.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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