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Knoxville Ice Bears to play shorter season with fewer opponents starting in late December

The Ice Bears will be one of five teams in the SPHL that will be allowed to play in the abbreviated 2020-2021 season.

The Knoxville Ice Bears will hit the ice again this December, but the season will be shorter than normal.

The Southern Professional Hockey League announced Tuesday that the 2020 - 2021 season will be comprised of five teams: The Ice Bears, Birmingham, Huntsville, Macon and Pensacola. The season will begin Saturday, December 26 and will feature 42 games -- down from the normal 56-game schedule.

The SPHL said the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions have limited its ability to allow spectators. Because of that, five teams are having to sit out the season.

“This is a tough day for the SPHL, particularly because the circumstances that forced these decisions are out of our control,” said SPHL Commissioner Doug Price. “When we were forced to suspend play back in March, we immediately turned our focus to the upcoming 2020-2021 season. We waited as long as possible for things to improve so that all of our teams could play this season, but I don’t think any of us imagined we would still be facing these restrictions seven months later.”

The SPHL said all players named to a protected list or signed to a training camp tryout will become free agents, but the five sitting out the season will be able to retain their rights to their protected list players for the 2021-2022 season. 

“Between the delayed start and the numerous cancelled events also booking replacement dates in 2021, there just was not enough time nor availability to have a full 56-game schedule without creating additional hardships for the five teams attempting to play this season,” added Price. 

The SPHL said it will announce schedules an the playoff format in the near future.