The Everett Silvertips announced Wednesday that their final home game of the 2019-20 Western Hockey League regular season will be closed to the public.
The announcement came after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee banned public gatherings of more than 250 people in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties through the end of the month in order to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
The game, against the Victoria Royals, is scheduled for March 20 at Angel of the Winds Arena.
Everett also is slated to host first-round playoff games on March 27 and 28 against an opponent to be determined. The Silvertips would prefer to play those games in Everett — even without fans — rather than move to a neutral site or start the best-of-seven series on the road, said Zoran Rajcic, the team’s chief operating officer.
“We had a consultation with (general manager) Garry Davidson, myself and (head coach) Dennis Williams on why a neutral-site game isn’t that advantageous for us,” Rajcic said. “(Fans) might be able to go — I don’t know what the availability of other facilities would be — but we do know that it’s taking us away from the stuff we’ve done here. We’ve been here since August 22 and 23, the players are used to the facilities, so why take (the players and coaches) away from the norm?”
Rajcic did not rule out neutral-site games if the ban extends further into the playoffs, but reiterated the team would like to stay in Everett if possible.
In a statement on their website, the Silvertips said “the safety and well being of our fans is top priority” and that “all tickets purchased for March 20 will be honored at a future Silvertips home game of the purchaser’s choice.” That includes credits or refunds for season-ticket holders who already have purchased ticket packages for next season, Rajcic said.
“Obviously they paid for something, and we are going to honor that,” Rajcic said. “We do understand where the fan base is coming from in that they’ve given us money for our product and that’s a ticket to a game and we’re going to be honoring that, and we’ll be working with everyone to make sure they get what they paid for.”
The March 20 game, and any other games played at Angel of the Winds Arena this month, will be broadcast on the league’s “WHL Live” streaming service.
With no fans to accommodate, the Silvertips have discussed the possibility of moving up the 7:35 p.m. puck drop for the March 20 game, Davidson said.
Playing a game in front of a nearly empty arena will be a bizarre experience, the players said, something akin to a training-camp scrimmage or a youth-league game.
“It will be a lot different than like 8,000 cowbells going off,” Silvertips forward Gage Goncalves said. “You’re definitely going to be able to hear all the chatter and stuff from the refs and from the benches. It’s definitely like we’re back at 13 years old again.”
“Obviously it’s going to be a lot different,” Silvertips captain Bryce Kindopp added. “We’re used to the big boost from the crowd here, but obviously for safety of everybody and ourselves, it’s something you have to do. It’s going to be weird, it’s going to be quiet, but we can’t let it affect the way we play.”
The Silvertips are exploring ways to augment the fan-less experience at Angel of the Winds Arena.
“Because we don’t have to put anything on in the arena to satisfy our sponsors, we can … show messages (from) our fans so our players can feel like they’re a part of it …,” Rajcic said. “Barring anything that wouldn’t allow us to play right now, that’s what we want to do.”
On Tuesday, the WHL released a statement regarding the recent COVID-19 outbreak in North America, urging players and team personnel to “maintain good hygiene practices” to help stem the spread of the virus. The precautions include the elimination of handshakes between teammates, opponents and officials; no sharing of water bottles and towels, and avoiding direct contact with fans, including high-fives and signing autographs.
The Silvertips also announced Tuesday that their weekly radio show at Sporty’s Beef & Brew in south Everett has been canceled until further notice.
While the virus has been in Washington state for weeks, it’s only recently spread to Canada, which reported its first “community case” last Thursday.