More than a month after the ECHL canceled the rest of its season, minor league hockey players are still hoping to get some financial help.
A relief fund set up by the league and Professional Hockey Players Association has $270,000 so far, about a third of the total goal. PHPA executive director Larry Landon estimates $850,000 is needed to cover paychecks from three lost weeks of the season. He hopes money can be sent to players beginning next week.
"We’ve got to get it out to the players that truly do need it as fast as we can," Landon said. “It’ll be a huge undertaking to get there, but if we can get them what they lost in the regular season, at least it helps them.”
With something of a shortfall and concerns growing about starting next season, players, fans and teams are starting to get creative. One fan has raised $7,000 by auctioning off memorabilia, and South Carolina goaltender Parker Milner hopes a quarantine concert brings awareness to the situation as well as some extra funds.
Longtime Toledo Walleye fan Dennis Seymour hopes to raise a total of $10,000 for the ECHL-PHPA COVID-19 Relief Fund and already bought a couple of $5 tickets for the Pregame Skate Quarantine Concert that will be live-streamed Saturday night. The effort is being spearheaded by Milner and Boston College teammate Brian Dumoulin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, with possible appearances from retired goaltender Mike McKenna, Kyle Palmieri of the New Jersey Devils and Kevin Hayes of the Philadelphia Flyers.
While the NHL and other pro sports leagues are considering returning without fans, that kind of business model doesn't work for minor league hockey. Landon said he's lost sleep worrying about the future.
“If there’s no group gatherings, how are we playing?” Landon said. “Your sponsors aren’t going to be sponsors if there’s no people in the stands. You need people in the stands.”
The immediate concern is trying to pay players for lost wages, but the uncertainty is unsettling among those who make an average of $700-$725 a week. Milner hoped Saturday's concert is just the start of publicizing what players are up against.
“Hopefully other guys will keep coming up with some stuff, but just finding cool ways to continue to talk about it,” Milner said. “Smaller little events like this or somebody just throwing in $10. I think down the line a lot of those smaller investments, especially as the summer progresses, will be the thing that really fuels this thing.”