The Reading Royals, the Flyers’ ECHL affiliate, will not play in 2020-21 because of the coronavirus, the league announced Wednesday.
All six ECHL North Division teams have opted out of the season, the league said. The others are Adirondack, Brampton, Maine, Newfoundland, and Worcester.
Reading general manger David Farrar said it was in “the best interest of community safety and the Royals’ long-term success” to turn the focus toward 2021-22, the organization’s 20th season.
The Royals rely on ticket and sponsorship revenue, and the current government restrictions hinder their ability to conduct business, the team said.
Brent Flahr, a Flyers assistant general manager and their scouting guru, said he understood why the season was shut down but felt bad for those connected with the Royals.
“It’s not ideal by any means for Reading and the players and the staff, and selfishly for us. It’s very handy for us because of the proximity to Lehigh Valley,” said Flahr, whose organization had several players spend time with both the Royals and AHL Phantoms last season. “If some guys aren’t playing [in Lehigh Valley], you can get them” to Reading.
Last season, two of the Flyers’ best goalie prospects, Kirill Ustimenko (31 games) and Felix Sandstrom (25), played a combined 56 games for Reading. They are expected to be among three goalies – Alex Lyon is the other – carried this season by the Phantoms. The AHL season is tentatively set to start Feb. 5.
Ustimenko (Belarus) and Sandstrom (Sweden) are both playing in Europe, and there is a chance one of them stays there for the season.
There is a slight chance some of the Flyers’ other prospects at Reading will be loaned to another ECHL team that still plans to play this season.
“This is a weird year, and we’re probably going to have to formulate different types of practices and development situations,” Flahr said. “We’re hoping the [AHL] can go on, but there’s still some hurdles there as well.”