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NHL is first U.S. sport to halt schedule amid coronavirus surge, with stoppage starting Wednesday

(Alan Diaz/AP)

The NHL will halt its season Wednesday amid a spike in coronavirus cases and the rise of the omicron variant, the league announced Monday night, becoming the first major pro sports league in North America with plans to halt play entirely, albeit briefly.

Team facilities will be closed from Wednesday through Saturday, and players will return Sunday for coronavirus testing and practice. Games are in line to resume Monday, Dec. 27. The league’s previously scheduled holiday break was Friday through Sunday.

Tuesday’s games still on the schedule — Washington at Philadelphia and Tampa Bay at Vegas — will be played as planned, pending test results. Before Monday’s move, 44 games had been postponed this season, including 39 in the past seven days.

Monday night’s announcement meant that five more games scheduled for Thursday will be postponed. All of Wednesday’s slate already had been pushed back.

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On Sunday, the NHL announced with the NHL Players’ Association that it would attempt to play on rather than halt the season. At the time, the league said it would scrap travel between the United States and Canada through the holiday break; that decision forced the postponement of 12 games, and more were scrapped Monday afternoon.

The NHL said in its announcement Monday night that “no individual in the team’s Traveling Party shall enter the facility (other than for testing purposes) until they have a negative test result.”

Ten NHL teams already were shut down by Monday night: the Ottawa Senators, Edmonton Oilers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs, Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators and Boston Bruins. The Calgary Flames had reopened their facility Monday after a lengthy pause.

Additionally, roughly 15 percent of NHL players were in the coronavirus protocols Monday.

The many postponements also have put the NHL’s participation in the Beijing Winter Olympics in jeopardy. The NHL and NHLPA addressed that issue in their Sunday statement, noting the discussion is ongoing, with a final determination expected in the coming days. But the Olympics were not mentioned in Monday night’s announcement.

The NHL and the players’ union agreed to participate in the Olympics in their most recent collective bargaining agreement negotiations, but the league can withdraw if it determines it needs to use the 2½-week Olympic break to complete the 2021-22 season on time. The Games begin Feb. 4.

On Saturday, the NHL unveiled enhanced covid-19 protocols for all teams; they are similar to last year’s protocols for the shortened season. Players are required to wear masks at all times in club facilities and while traveling. Players and staff are to be tested daily. Teams will hold virtual meetings, and no team-sanctioned holiday parties are allowed. These measures will be in effect into the new year and are set to be reevaluated by Jan. 7.

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