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It's unfathomable: The games have stopped and we don't know when they'll be back

Mike Harrington

Sports have always been our escape. Think about it. They didn't go away during World War II. Except for the NFL's brain cramp to decide to take the field, it was only a few days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy that play resumed after most everything shut down. It was 10 days after 9/11 when Mike Piazza hit his famous home run at Shea Stadium for the Mets to lift the spirits of New York and the nation.

You knew the games were coming back and we could rally around them. And that's what makes one stunning week in March of 2020 unlike anything we've ever seen. We have no idea what's happening, no idea when the teams are returning. Or even if they are, in the cases of the NBA and NHL.

Almost no conference basketball tournaments. No Selection Sunday and Selection Monday. No bracket pools. No March Madness at all. It's mind-boggling.

And it goes through much more. No Frozen Four, no men's and women's College World Series. Your heart breaks for all the seniors who had one last chance, all the athletes of any class year who might have had their best chance for those shining moments.

No more spring training. No baseball at all for a while, both major league and the Bisons. Opening Days circled on the calendars for months are now scrapped. No Bandits games. High school championships shelved from state to state.

These leagues and organizations had no choice. The games had to stop in the wake of what we saw happen Wednesday night in the NBA, when Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for the coronavirus. And certainly when we learned Thursday morning that a second Jazz player, Donovan Mitchell, also tested positive.

[Related: NHL suspends its season amid outbreak of coronavirus]

To borrow from MLB commissioner Fay Vincent during the 1989 World Series earthquake, your modest little sporting events all need to take a seat in the name of public health. Everything needs to be delayed, for the safety of all those in uniform as well as all those in the stands and working in the ballparks and arenas.

As for hockey, seasons are being wiped out across the globe. The Swiss League, near and dear to the heart of Sabres coach Ralph Krueger, and Czech League canceled their seasons Thursday morning.

The Swedish League didn't go to that length – at least not yet – and instead is going on a 10-day hiatus and a plan to play shorter playoff series. The International Ice Hockey Federation tweeted the World Championship in May in Switzerland are still on, despite reports to the contrary. We'll see how long that sticks.

Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Norway, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia have canceled the remainder of their hockey seasons.

The NHL did not jump to immediately shut down its season like the NBA did Wednesday, likely because it didn't have a confirmed positive test for the virus. The league moved deliberately through its conference call with representatives from its Board of Governors on Thursday afternoon, initially telling teams to cancel all morning skates and practices.

The Sabres were in Montreal and stayed hunkered in their downtown hotel, rather than go to the Bell Centre for their morning meetings. The NHL's official word then signaled the Sabres and all teams on the road to head for the airports to start the trip home.

The league's statement was intentionally vague. No one knows how long this hiatus is going to be. A week? A month? Two months? Does the season resume from the point we're at, as Gary Bettman's statement clearly indicated is the hope? Or does the league go directly to some sort of playoffs, thus putting a premature end to the season for teams like the Sabres?

And just imagine if that's the case for teams like the New York Islanders (one point out of a wild card with two games in hand) or Vancouver Canucks (tied for the final West slot but one regulation win behind Nashville). Talk about frustration.

The Sabres have 13 games left. They're not going to the playoffs, but it's clear that those games could be a final referendum on General Manager Jason Botterill. There's free agents all over their roster. Maybe we've seen the last of them. If the league doesn't return, or comes back only with limited playoffs, the loss of revenue could severely limit the salary cap for next season. So much uncertainty that it makes your head spin.

Of course, no one knows if or when this season will resume or next season will begin. Hockey and every sport is obviously insignificant in the grand scheme of things. It's a surreal time.

Now we just sit and wait. It's never been like this before. Unnerving for sure.

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