If you were looking forward to the start of the Evansville Thunderbolts hockey season at the Ford Center, an announcement from the Southern Professional Hockey League on Tuesday afternoon is not something you wanted to hear.

In a statement posted on their website, the League announced the upcoming 2020-21 season will consist of five teams playing a shortened, 42 game season, and unfortunately the Thunderbolts will not be one of those teams. But, they're not alone. The Fayetteville Marksmen, Peoria Rivermen, Quad City Storm and Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs won't be taking the ice in their respective arenas either.

Citing local and state regulations due to the COVID-19 pandemic in those five communities as the reason for the decision to keep those teams off the ice, the League said the "economic impacts" those teams would face in terms of limiting the number of fans who would be able to attend games as a result of those regulations factored into their decision.

The Thunderbolts also released a statement regarding the decision which included the following quote from team president Scott Schoenike:

This has been one of the most difficult decision (sic) I have ever had to make.  My heart like the rest of the teams that have opted out this season wants us to play but my head tells me it is best to opt out and spend our time and effort towards the upcoming 2021-2022 season...It was not one single COVID-19 pandemic factor that determined the decision but a combination of COVID-19 restrictions, safety of players, and projected financial increases of travel, testing, extra apartments and other precautionary expenses.

It's worth noting the SPHL's statement did not imply the decision to sit out was made by the teams whereas, based on Schoenike statement, that was the case.

Schoenike went on to say the team is committed to returning for the 2021-22 season, and that head coach, Jeff Bes will be returning to Evansville after the first of the year to begin working on next season. He also said those who have already purchased season tickets for this year will be contacted by the team to discuss options. You can read the team's entire statement here.

The teams who will be playing are the Birmingham Bulls, Huntsville Havoc, Knoxville Ice Bears, Macon Mayhem and Pensacola Ice Flyers. Read the League's full statement regarding the upcoming season here.

[Source: Southern Professional Hockey League / Evansville Thunderbolts]

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