The National Hockey League is suspending the rest of its regular season, until further notice, due to concerns over the spread of coronavirus.
The announcement was made Thursday afternoon following consultation between league officials and the NHL's board of governors. The NBA suspended its season Wednesday night and other professional sports leagues have since followed suit.
The policy goes into effect immediately, including Thursday's scheduled games. The Buffalo Sabres were in Montreal preparing to play the Canadiens Thursday night when the news was announced.
"The NHL has been attempting to follow the mandates of health experts and local authorities, while preparing for any possible developments without taking premature or unnecessary measures. However, following last night's news that an NBA player has tested positive for coronavirus - and given that our leagues share so many facilities and locker rooms and it now seems likely that some member of the NHL community would test positive at some point - it is no longer appropriate to try to continue to play games at this time," said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, in a statement.
"We will continue to monitor all the appropriate medical advice, and we will encourage our players and other members of the NHL community to take all reasonable precautions - including by self-quarantine, where appropriate. Our goal is to resume play as soon as it is appropriate and prudent, so that we will be able to complete the season and award the Stanley Cup. Until then, we thank NHL fans for your patience and hope you stay healthy."
The NHL has 189 games remaining. The regular season was scheduled to end April 4, with the Stanley Cup Playoffs starting the week of April 6. The Sabres have 13 games remaining on the schedule, including six home games.
The Buffalo Sabres issued a statement following the announcement, saying the organization is in "full support" of the decision.
"The health and safety of players, staff and fans is our top priority. The Buffalo Sabres are in full support of the National Hockey League’s decision to pause the season. We urge all community members to practice caution and strictly follow the CDC’s guidelines for preventing the spread of disease during this time. We will continue to provide updates as necessary.
The Sabres said since the NHL is planning to reschedule games, tickets will be valid for the rescheduled dates. Anyone with questions can call the KeyBank Center ticket office at 1-888-467-2273. Sabres season ticket holders may reach out to their account representative with any inquiries.
The NHL Players' Association also issued a statement Thursday supporting the decision, calling it "an appropriate course of action at this time."
"The NHLPA will continue to closely monitor this very dynamic situation and remain in daily discussions with the League, our medical consultants, and our players regarding all aspects of this matter. The players are looking forward to the opportunity to resume play in front of hockey fans everywhere," the statement read.
Earlier this week, the NHL issued new protocols for members of the media covering games. Reporters were no longer allowed in locker rooms for post-game interviews, as has been the norm. Instead, players were brought to a media room and media members were asked to keep a distance.