Fear over the possible spread of the deadly coronavirus from Westchester to Niagara counties has caused officials to air on the side of caution when it comes to this weekend's annual New York State Amateur Hockey Association Tournament in Lockport, Niagara Falls and Amherst.
With some participants coming from Westchester County just north of New York City, which has had the largest number of confirmed novel COVID-19 cases in this state (an outbreak is centered in New Rochelle at the southern tip of that county, closest to NYC), Amherst town officials decided to impose a no-spectator ban at Northtown, the main tourney site.
NYSAHA president Joe Baudo said it was quickly decided to extend the spectator ban to the other tournament “satellite” sites — the Hyde Park Ice Pavilion in Niagara Falls and the Cornerstone CFCU Arena in downtown Lockport.
Only players, coaches, staff, officials and other essential personnel will be allowed in the rink area of the arena for all NYSAHA tourney games at all three sites, Friday through Sunday.
Baudo noted that the good news is that the tourney will go on as scheduled and that the NYSAHA has arranged for all games to be available on television for free.
Almost two dozen division tournaments are scheduled to take place over a three-week period, beginning Friday. According to the Cornerstone website, collectively, the NYSAHA tourney is expected to fill more than 7,000 hotel rooms and bring in an estimated $4.4M for the area economy.
The 2020 tourney weekend dates this month are March 6-8, 13-15 and 20-22.
“Due to the coronavirus outbreak, we have decided we can continue with the tournament, but only as long as no spectators are allowed in the rinks. Only players, officials and staff,” Baudo said on Wednesday.
Roughly 54 teams and 1,500 players, coaches and officials are scheduled to participate in the 2020 NYSAHA tourney.
Published reports earlier this week said Amherst Supervisor Brian J. Kulpa had been pressured to cancel the tourney completely. Baudo said the compromise decision to continue the tournament, but by banning spectators, was made in the best interest of trying to please both sides — those seriously concerned with the spread of the virus and the thousands of participants hoping to have the popular mega-tournament go on with as little distractions as possible.
Throughout the tournament, players will be dropped off at the rink entrances, where they will be directed to an area where they will join their team inside, along with their coaches and managers, Baudo said.
All others, including families and other spectators, will not be permitted to be present, both in the rinks and inside the three rink facilities.