MANCHESTER — Gov. Chris Sununu said he is talking with National Hockey League officials about the possibility of playing NHL games at the SNHU Arena this year.
“There is truth to that,” Sununu told WEEI in Boston on Friday, but the governor said later he did not think the league was ready to make decisions about resuming the season.
“I have had discussions about that. Don’t know whether it’s going to happen, but we are talking about it,” Sununu said.
The NHL suspended play in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Tim Bechert, senior general manager at the SNHU Arena, said he has talked with the governor in the past week about the NHL’s potential interest in using the arena for the neutral-site games.
“If there is an opportunity down the road for us to play a role in the finishing of the NHL season and playoffs, we would certainly look at it and see if we could make something happen,” Bechert told the New Hampshire Union Leader.
At a press briefing Friday afternoon, Sununu said he spoke with the NHL commissioner, proposing the idea of games in Manchester.
“I don’t even think the NHL is there,” Sununu said.
If there were to be games held in Manchester, Sununu said they would likely not be open to fans.
During the radio interview, Sununu said he had talked to “a few folks in the NHL” about Manchester.
“It would be a very interesting opportunity for New Hampshire, but even the venues, right, would have to say, ‘Yes, we want this’, because we’ve got to make sure what are the liabilities here, what if a team were to get sick, how is it going to be managed?” Sununu said. “So we’re working through some of those logistics, but that’s on the table, for sure.”
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the NHL has been exploring the possibility of neutral sites for games because the coronavirus could affect locations differently, and that might be the safest, most efficient alternative, according to NHL.com.
“When we decide it’s time to play, we’ve got to get everybody back and be comfortable that not only are we not only infecting the population of players, but that we’re not bringing the coronavirus from other places into jurisdictions where the players and other personnel are going,” Bettman told Fox Business Network this week
“My guess at this point is, we’re probably going to be playing into the summer, which is something that we can certainly do,” Bettman said.
The Boston Bruins and Boston Celtics have played preseason games at the Manchester arena before, and the Stanley Cup trophy has made multiple visits to the arena.
The Manchester arena hosted minor league hockey from 2001 to 2019, first as an American Hockey League franchise, one level below the NHL, and later as an ECHL team, two levels below the NHL.
COVID-19 has postponed or canceled more than a dozen events at the SNHU Arena so far this year.