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Sens and rookie sensation Josh Norris also robbed of crack at Calder Cup
It was the worse-kept secret in the hockey world, but the American Hockey League’s decision this week to officially cancel what’s left of the 2019-20 regular season and playoffs is still bitterly disappointing to Clark Bishop of St. John’s, who along with his Charlotte Checkers teammates had hoped to defend their Calder Cup championship this season.
“After a lengthy review process, the American Hockey League has determined that the resumption and completion of the 2019-20 season is not feasible in light of current conditions,” AHL president Dave Andrews said in a statement. “The league’s operational focus has turned toward actively preparing for the 2020-21 season.
“We are very grateful to the National Hockey League and its teams for their support and leadership in navigating through the challenges faced over the past two months. 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.”
The AHL relies on ticket sales as its main source of revenue, and given the COVID-19 pandemic, games without fans in the stands made zero economic sense.
The Checkers won the AHL championship last season, beating the Chicago Wolves in the final. Charlotte was third in the Atlantic Division after 61 games this season with a 34-22-5 record. That’s despite using six goalies and 46 players, tied for second-most in the AHL.
“It’s definitely disappointing,” said Bishop, who is now home in St. John’s, “especially after a rough start. But we got it going again, the team really started to jell, and things were looking very promising.
“But I know health and safety has to be in everyone’s best interest.”
The Checkers were 4-6 through their first 10 games this season, and 8-12 through 20. Since the new year, however, Charlotte won 18 of 29 games, which included a stretch of 10 victories in 13 games in January and February.
Bishop, a 24-year-old forward, had six goals and 19 points in 53 games this season.
He also made five appearances in the parent Carolina Hurricanes lineup, picking up an assist.
A Hurricanes’ 2014 draft pick, in the fifth round and 127th overall, Bishop made his NHL debut last season, appearing in 20 games and scoring a goal with two assists. He also made two playoff starts.
In Belleville, Ont., the AHL’s Senators were first in the North Division and third in the Eastern Conference at 38-20-4-1 when the league was cancelled.
“It’s certainly a missed opportunity that we can’t see what the team could do, potentially, down the stretch and in the playoffs,” coach Troy Mann told Sportsnet.ca.
“A lot of coaches talk about that in terms of how to win, and that is a huge component of it. We did have good vets, but the ability of these young kids to come together and play through some adversity was vital.”
One of those kids was Josh Norris. Norris, 20, is the son of St. John’s native and former NHLer Dwayne Norris.
Originally San Jose Sharks property after the Sharks made him the 19th overall pick in the 2017 draft, Norris was traded to Ottawa as part of the Erik Karlsson trade.
Despite playing only a season and a half at Michigan, Norris opted to leave school early after signing a three-year entry level deal with the Sens last spring.
Norris was the AHL’s top rookie scorer with 31 goals and 61 points this season.
Mann told Sportsnet.ca that it’s important for Norris, a Michigan native, to get in a strong off-season of training so he can compete against bigger, stronger players in the NHL next season.