As has been long expected, the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) have officially announced that the 2020/21 season has been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A combination of factors brought about by the impact of Covid-19 have left the league with no choice but to cancel the season before it has even begun, leaving Belfast Giants fans starved of any live action until September 2021.
While the season has not been cancelled altogether, leaving the possibility of potentially starting a shortened tournament in January or February open should restrictions on fans attending games be significantly eased, league sources have indicated to the Belfast Telegraph that this is no longer being considered as a likely option.
While other European leagues are forging ahead with limited or no spectators, ultimately the EIHL cannot function without the financial boost provided by fans in the stands, both from ticket and concession sales, due to a lack of a league sponsor and a significant TV broadcast deal.
League figures have indicated that clubs would require at least 80% capacity at games to remain viable, which is currently impossible due to restrictions on indoor gatherings imposed by the four local governments.
Teams were also concerned over their long-term stability had they signed players to contracts and then had to stop the season should there be a second nationwide lockdown, which has led to the owners making a unanimous decision to suspend the season.
The league's start date had been pushed back twice already, from its original September 5 opening weekend to October and then to the first weekend in December, however all three ultimately proved too optimistic.
This decision had long been rumoured, with teams - including the Giants - openly admitting they have encouraged their players to seek opportunities elsewhere due to the status of the league over recent months, an offer several players have availed of.
While several teams still retain a sliver of hope that some elite hockey will take place before the 2021-22 season, which all 10 teams have committed to despite the hardships they have suffered during lockdown, the likelihood is planning will now begin for next season instead.
The hope was that by early 2021 the virus would have been contained enough to allow fans back into arenas and potentially allow interested teams to play either a shortened league or some form of cup competition, however league sources have suggested that is now being considered unlikely as governments continue to restrict mass gatherings.