Dundee Stars have signed head coach and general manager Omar Pacha to a new three-year deal and vowed to press on with planning for next season after the Elite Ice Hockey League suspended the upcoming campaign.
Amid continued uncertainty about when fans will be allowed to return to rinks in the UK, the 10 EIHL clubs – who comprise the top level of ice hockey in Britain – have “unanimously agreed” that a proposed December start of the 2020/21 season is now impossible.
The Stars yesterday revealed their players have already been told to look elsewhere for opportunities to play hockey this year, with star Canadian forward Anthony Beauregard seizing the chance to leave the club.
However, the City of Discovery outfit today struck a hugely positive note after news of the coming season’s suspension was confirmed by the EIHL.
Having made big strides in building the club’s profile in recent years, the Stars have opted, rather than mothballing, to continue their commercial work, while also implementing plans for the 2021/22 season under Omar Pacha, who has been handed a new contract.
Revealing the news, club co-owner Steve Ward said: “Covid-19 has had devastating effects on everything we do, so it is with great regret that the league has taken the difficult decision to shelve plans to start the season late.
“We have tried to look into all possible ways to commence this season, but with social distancing, the chance of a second wave and no realistic change, it has become apparent that there is no likelihood the season would be feasible.
“Therefore the decision was taken to put a halt on all planning and focus on plans to resume the league for season 2021/22, starting in December of that year.
“We look forward to coming back bigger, stronger and better than before.
“Over the last three seasons we have seen a substantial increase in the visibility and interest in the Stars – and the Elite League in general.
“We intend to build on this and we are fully committed going forward to ensure we are well-prepared and ready for the challenges of the 2021/22 season.
“We are fully committed to our staff members. Mike Ward Jnr will continue in his role of getting the Stars message out there and enhancing our commercial and community programmes.
“But the great news for everyone today should be we have agreed terms as a family to bring Omar (Pacha) back and he is going to stay on board as our head coach and general manager for a further three seasons.
“We are delighted he has chosen to remain part of the Stars family.”
Pacha added: “With the Stars I have always been vocal and mentioned the positivity of the club in how it has become one of – if not the – fastest growing sports club in Scotland.
“In Dundee I am proud to say we have established ourselves as a major team and are privileged to play a huge role in the community.
“This year, without a doubt, will be one of the hardest in the organisation’s history, however, we are committed to work harder than ever to ensure that we are in the strongest position going into the 2021/22 EIHL season.
“It is our ultimate goal to welcome all our loyal supporters back to Dundee Ice Arena when it is safe to do so – and reward them with a team they can be proud of.”
He continued: “With no hockey, it’s a challenge, but for me it’s the fact the ownership were very strong and proactive from the get-go to make sure I felt comfortable even in an uncertain situation.
“That went a long way in the conversations with Mike (Ward, co-owner) and Steve early on. It was never even a question of me going, it was more: ‘How can we thrive through this pandemic?’
“It’s little things I appreciate and that was definitely one of the moments in my career when, in difficult times, you see people stick together.
“For me, it was comfortable. I enjoyed my time here. I think we’ve done tremendous things in the last few years here, all together, and again, it’s just unfortunate with what happened, which is out of our control.
“It’s disappointing. But without a doubt, I know I’ve made the right decision to stay on board and I’m really thankful to the organisation for not only thinking of me at this time but also for their vision to keep on rolling, keep pushing and thriving through this difficult time and not even think of shutting the doors for a year.”
In confirming the EIHL’s decision to suspend hockey, league chairman Tony Smith said: “We’ve been very open that we need to have fans back in our arenas for us to begin playing again. We operate around 75% to 100% capacity at our venues and this is the level of crowds we would need in order to go ahead at any point, which isn’t a realistic option right now.
“Government compliance along with the safety of our players, officials, staff and fans is paramount to this decision.”
“If government guidance and support were to change, some teams may be ready to revise their plans to return to play and would need a minimum of 8 weeks to prepare.
“We are looking into the possibility of some form of top level ice hockey in the UK potentially taking place in early 2021.
“This could start in late January or early February and go through into late June, but may not include all teams and again this is dependent on crowds being allowed back inside venues.
“We continue to speak with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and devolved administrations about their plans for the return of fans to arenas that would enable this to happen, but having a full EIHL season starting in 2020 with ten teams is now beyond us, unfortunately.”