BOW VALLEY – For Junior hockey players looking for a shot on the Canmore Eagles, it will be made clear they’ll need to get the jab in order to play for the mountain town team.
The local hockey club is gearing up for a new season and facing longstanding issues such as finding billet homes, as well as new ones like the suspension of head coach Andrew Milne for the first 15 games of the season.
Although for Milne, who’s also general manager, there’s a direct correlation in safety of billet families and the community and players wanting to make the roster.
“Our board of directors will make that clear that our players need to be vaccinated in order to come to town,” said Milne.
Last season, the Eagles opted-out of the league’s restart in March due to a lack of billets. During the time, a vaccine wasn't available and it was “understandable” from the team’s outlook that billets didn’t want to house players who travelled often.
This season, with a vaccine available, and billets still hard to come by, there will be a new standard in place for every Eagles player.
“We’re in the need of 12 to 14 beds again,” said Milne. “We need billet beds and we need them right away. We’re not pushing the panic button yet, but I know by August 1 if we don’t have this sorted out we’re going to really start to push the panic button ... if we don’t have housing for these players, we don’t have a team.
“It’s not a threat, it’s a fact. We can’t house them in staff accom [accommodation] and we can’t house them in hotels, and we can’t ask the players to drive in from Calgary and surrounding areas, so we’re in a position where if we want a junior hockey team in the valley, we need billets.”
The Outlook reached out to the AJHL about its approach to COVID-19 and vaccinations for this upcoming season, but didn't receive a response in time for publication deadlines.
The AJHL regular season starts Sept. 17 and the Eagles are taking on the Olds Grizzlys in a season opening away game.
On Sept. 18, the Eagles battle the Calgary Canucks in the home opener. Puck drop is 7 p.m.
The Eagles are scheduled to host two games in Banff this season against the Grizzlys on Oct. 19, and against the Drumheller Dragons on Jan. 18.
Playoffs begin March 4.
While Milne serves a 15-game suspension, the bench boss duties will be divvied up between Bryan Arneson, Mike Glawson, and Kyle McLaughlin.
Arneson, a former Eagle between 2012-14, is the newest addition to the team’s full-time coaching staff. He’ll be the consistent figure on the bench for the first 15 games.
Glawson, a former head scout of the Eagles, has spent the past four season scouting talent for the club and is head coach of the U18AAA Calgary Flames; and McLaughlin, a AA coach and skills development trainer, served on the coaching staff during the Eagles’ brief 2020-21 season.
“Between the three of them, we’ll figure out a plan on how that’s going to work,” said Milne.
“The good news is we have capable members of the organization, it’s just a question of how much commitment can they give?”
Last season, Milne was handed a 15-game suspension and fined $1,000 by the AJHL for speaking openly to the media about a COVID-19 outbreak that affected the Eagles.
Milne is eligible to return to the bench Oct. 30 during an away game against the Bonnyville Pontiacs.
With the suspension, the main rulings are Milne is barred from the bench during games, as well as the dressing room an hour leading up to and an hour following games. The suspension also withholds Milne from coaching in between periods.
He’s allowed to attend practices and help prepare the team throughout the week.
Due to a split role as head coach and general manager, Milne said he’ll take on a bigger role in staff management and overseeing operations at home games.
“The positive side of that is as we hire new staff for positions within the organization that I will have time to allocate to helping them,” said Milne. “It’ll give me an opportunity to work with our off-ice production knowing the on-ice production is capable of those three guys.”
For more information on billeting, contact Barb Costley at email@example.com.