Belfast Giants head coach Adam Keefe has admitted the team are unlikely to play any games until next August at the earliest after the suspension of the 2020-21 Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) season.
The Giants were due to start their new campaign a couple of weeks ago but, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the season was pushed back to December before eventually being suspended yesterday.
The EIHL cannot operate without fans in the stands as teams rely on the finances they provide through ticket and concession sales on game night, with the league lacking a title sponsor and a significant broadcast deal like other European leagues that are going ahead.
There was talk that if restrictions on indoor gatherings were lifted in early 2021 that some teams could come together and start a shortened league season, but Keefe has poured cold water on that possibility.
"It's something we have been on board with all summer. We want to have some kind of season, whether it be a shortened form or any kind of form. It's important for the fan base," said Keefe, who is currently working on helping players in last season's team find jobs.
"But these things also have to be financially viable for each team. Looking at the current restrictions on fans indoors and travel bans, and everything that it takes to bring imports over, it doesn't seem like it will be viable for us to play in early '21.
"If things were to drastically change and it did become an option then I'm sure it will be something we'll look at."
The Canadian, who will now turn his focus to assembling a team for 2021-22, is instead clutching onto the positives and is looking forward to the time that the Giants will be able to return to the ice at the SSE Arena.
"You start to realise that maybe we've all taken the Giants and ice hockey for granted. You just assume it'll be back year after year and we'll be back chasing trophies and chasing the highs of sport," added Keefe.
"Throughout lockdown, that's something that kept coming up for me, how emotional and how cool it will be to experience that first game back with all the fans.
"We want to reach out to all UK ice hockey fans, knowing how far we came and how much we lost during the pandemic."