In this 2018 photo Beacon, the puffin mascot for the Maine Mariners of the ECHL, shows off prior to a game at Portland's Cross Insurance Arena. Credit: Courtesy of Maine Mariners

Citing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic across the Northeast, the ECHL on Wednesday announced that teams in its North Division have suspended play for the remainder of the 2020-21 season.

The Maine Mariners, based in Portland, are among six teams in the professional hockey league’s North Division that have elected not to continue with the season. The others are the Adirondack Thunder, Brampton Beast, Newfoundland Growlers, Reading Royals and Worcester Railers.

The league said all teams are expected to return for the 2021-22 ECHL season.

“As we continue to navigate the continually changing regulations across North America, we recognize the difficult nature of this decision,” ECHL Commissioner Ryan Crelin said. “While some of our teams’ host cities have allowed upcoming plans to include fans inside arenas, we unfortunately do not see the same path for these highly-affected areas in the North East.”

“We are saddened to have had to make this decision with our fellow division teams,” Maine Mariners Vice President of Hockey Operations Danny Briere said.

“With the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19, the increasing rates in our region, and after consulting with local officials, we did not see a clear path toward hosting fans at Mariners games,” he added. “We want to thank our fans for their passion and loyalty as we continue to navigate returning to the ice. The future for this franchise is bright, and we are already making exciting plans for the 2021-22 season.”

Under the terms of the ECHL/Professional Hockey Players’ Association Collective Bargaining Agreement, all players from the affected teams are free agents for the 2020-21 season immediately.