It has been since March when the AHL last played a game, but North America’s top hockey developmental league will return to play on February 5.
League CEO Scott Howson made the announcement on Wednesday, marking one of the last leagues that suspended operations at the onset of the pandemic to return to play.
The NHL, which held a 24-team playoff late in the summer, is slated to begin the 2021 season in two weeks.
The ECHL, which is one level below the AHL, resumed play several weeks ago with 13 of its teams in action. Another group of teams are slated to rejoin the ECHL in January, but other squads have opted to suspend operations for the year.
For many minor leagues, operating with restricted attendance is more problematic. Unlike major league sports, which see a significant portion of their revenue come from television rights, minor league teams heavily rely on gate attendance. Minor league baseball did not play in 2020, which forced MLB to create taxi squads in order to have reserve players ready in case of a call up.
“The American Hockey League Board of Governors has approved the structural framework for an AHL season that will begin on February 5, 2021,” Howson said. “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. We look forward to dropping the puck on Feb. 5.”