TORONTO — The Brampton Beast of the ECHL have folded, citing the global pandemic.
The pro hockey team started in 2013 in the Central Hockey League, helping fill the void after the Ontario Hockey League's Brampton Battalion moved to North Bay. When the CHL folded in 2014, Brampton and six other teams joined the ECHL.
“We played seven years in Brampton. We had some momentum. I think we were improving both on and off the ice,” team president and GM Cary Kaplan said in an interview. "And the global pandemic hit.
"People think of it for one year but it's really impacted for us three seasons of hockey. It was too much for our team to overcome."
The league suspended play last March due to COVID-19. Fourteen teams subsequently elected to take part in the 2020-2021 season, with 12 including Brampton and the Newfoundland Growlers, the other Canadian club, sitting out.
Kaplan said the decision was eventually made to pull the plug in advance of next season because "not surprising(ly) … people were not willing to buy tickets or sponsorship or anything with us now."
"Our realization is even the upcoming season is precarious … As much as we felt like we were successful for the seven (seasons) we played, it became overwhelming so we had to make that decision," he added.
The 2021-22 season is scheduled to open Oct. 22 and run through April 17, 2022 with 27 teams participating, including expansion franchises in Trois-Rivieres, Que., and Coralville, Iowa.
The Beast were affiliated first with the Tampa Bay Lightning and then the Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators.
Beast alumni include goaltenders Chris Driedger of the Florida Panthers and Marcus Hogberg of the Senators.
Kaplan says the Beast had been averaging between 2,500 and 3,000 fans at the 5,000-capacity CAA Centre, just west of Toronto.
"Our fan base was becoming more impassioned and we think we had found a niche," he said. "It's not an NHL team, but Brampton is a very unique city unto itself. We felt like we had a following and some momentum."
The league says Brampton players will become free agents upon the completion of the 2020-21 season.
The Brampton team is owned by Gregg Rosen, Phil Fusco and Gurmeet Singh with Kaplan owning a smaller stake.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 18, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press