Due to health safety concerns stemming from the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, Colorado Springs, Colo.-based USA Hockey has announced the cancellation of its 16th annual USA Hockey/Labatt Blue Pond Hockey National Championships slated for Feb. 4-7 at Eagle River. 

USA Hockey’s decision to cancel the 2021 tournament was reached in consultation with the Vilas County Health Department, the Eagle River Area Chamber of Commerce and tournament sponsor Labatt Blue.

“USA?Hockey is looking out for the community considering COVID,” said Kim Emerson, executive director of the Eagle River Area Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve been meeting since back in October regarding the COVID situation, not only right here in Vilas County, Wisconsin, but throughout the United States, because teams are coming usually from 25 different states throughout the country.”

Vilas County Health Officer Laurel Dreger said the cancellation decision came out of a December teleconference.  

“We all discussed the very high levels of COVID -19 cases in the county and the state,”?Dreger said. “We discussed the fact that much of the population of Vilas County is elderly and that vaccine would not be available for the public for several more months. We also discussed the fact that the event would be bringing in people from all over the country at a time when COVID cases would still likely be high all over the country and when non-essential travel would still not be recommended.”  

All teams registered for the 2021 national championship tournament will receive a full refund from USA?Hockey and have the opportunity to secure a spot in the 2022 event, scheduled for Feb. 10-13 on Dollar Lake in Eagle River.

The decision to cancel, while difficult, was felt prudent given the current state of the pandemic across the country.

“The health and safety of the players, volunteers and the Eagle River community is of utmost importance during these unprecedented times,” said Ashley Bevan, USA? Hockey’s senior director of adult hockey. “Reaching this decision with our partners was extremely difficult, but we jointly believe it’s the right thing to do and we look forward to the 2022 USA Hockey/Labatt Blue Pond Hockey National Championships.”

Emerson said that while it was originally hoped that the 2021 tournament could still be held, albeit on a scaled-back basis, an increasing number of registration cancellations was a likely contributing factor in the decision to scuttle this year’s tournament.

“They had downsized the event to make it more feasible to run with COVID and they had quite a few teams sign up, but over the last month and a half many teams have been dropping out,” she noted. “I think that was one of the concerns as well as to why the event was cancelled.”

Economic impact 

Cancellation of the 2021 USA Hockey/Labatt Blue Pond Hockey National Championships will have a definite impact on the Eagle River area according to Emerson.

“You have lodging that’s being impacted, you have restaurants being impacted, bars, grocery stores, gas stations...,” she said.

Emerson noted that the tournament typically draws in excess of 1,750 players, in addition to accompanying family and friends, visitors who book a minimum of three nights and often more, both before and after the tournament. 

“The tournament, obviously, means a lot,” Emerson said, noting a 2018 economic impact study by the chamber estimated that the USA Hockey/Labatt Blue Pond Hockey National Championship infuses around $750,000 into the area economy in food and lodging revenues alone, a number she said has risen in subsequent  years. 

“February, being a slower time, it’s an addition to the snowmobiling,” she said.