The Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) have confirmed that the start of the Belfast Giants' 2020-21 season will be pushed back to December at the earliest.
At a meeting of the ten EIHL clubs this afternoon, the owners voted to push back the intended October start date to December due to the ongoing uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The intention is for the league to still start with the newly created Magic Weekend in Nottingham, which would stage the first games of the season on December 5-6 at the Motorpoint Arena.
The regular season would then finish a month later than usual, with the final weekend of games slated for May 1-2, with the Play-Off Quarter-Finals a week later and then Play-Off Finals Weekend on May 15-16, again at Nottingham's Motorpoint Arena.
The Belfast Telegraph understands that it is the EIHL's intention to still play a full 54-game season, despite losing a full calendar month in which to schedule fixtures.
As it stands, pre-season games would be played in the final weeks of November in order to allow teams to ramp up their preparations for the new season. The league's annual fixtures meeting has been "tentatively scheduled" for September.
This is the second delay to the season due to Covid-19, with the league's usual September start date having already been moved back to October prior to today's announcement.
As an indoor sport, the league have been mindful of restrictions with regards to indoor events, with the virus more dangerous in enclosed spaces, and any return to play plans would be in line with government regulations.
Tony Smith, chairman of the EIHL, explained: "There are two factors that we need to consider with any return to play plan. Firstly, we need six to eight weeks from the time we know we can play in order to complete our teams, get work visas in place, book flights, buy equipment, etc.
"Secondly, we need our fans. We cannot play behind closed doors or with very limited capacity, it just isn't an option."
Cardiff Devils general manager, and former Giants player, Todd Kelman did suggest in a Q&A last week that the league could resume with 50% capacity initially, however playing a full season with restricted crowd numbers would not be viable for the EIHL.