CANMORE – A decision on the future of the 2020-21 AJHL season will be delayed until the new year.
On Nov. 25, the AJHL put the season on hold following the announcement of the Alberta government's declaration of a state of public health emergency.
Since then, new provincial restrictions have been put in place until Jan. 11. At the AJHL board of governors meeting on Friday (Dec. 18), the league concluded it is unable to establish a timeline for a return to play until January.
“Our priority is to exhaust all options in order to have some form of a season and do everything we can do to benefit our athletes, teams and league through development and gameplay,” said AJHL commissioner Ryan Bartoshyk in a press release.
As the league remains stuck in limbo, Eagles players have recovered from their bout with COVID-19 and have left the team temporarily due to binding rules, which have put a kibosh on Junior A hockey practices.
“For these players coming back to these communities, there will have to be an isolation period, followed by a short training period to get back up to speed," said Eagles head coach and general manager Andrew Milne. "All of these kids have been off for a while, they will need the practice.
“Once we have an understanding of what this restart will look like, we will sit down as an organization and involve all the groups – players, parents, billets, and staff.”
He said many possibilities for the future of the season were discussed. One option that was not brought up was the possibility of cancelling the season.
Options put forward for a restart to the 2020-21 season include a three-team cohort, smaller regional divisions, scrapping the North and South divisions and a bubble format similar to the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) format to reduce travel between games.
“If we could play February, March and April, that would be incredible,” Milne said.
He said the goal of the league is player development and getting them back on the ice.
“The league is looking into every option available to try and salvage this season, but at the end of the day, that is all dependent on the restrictions put in place by the government,” Milne said.
Of the already shortened 32-game AJHL season, the Eagles have played two games, winning both, and so far have had nine games cancelled. If the league were to reconvene following the latest restrictions, the team’s next game would be at home to the Brooks Bandits on Jan. 15.
Also, Canmore has two Western Hockey League (WHL) players signed on loan until Dec. 20: defenceman Alex Cotton and forward Spencer Moe. It's uncertain if they will be returning to the club, as it depends on what decisions the WHL and AJHL will make. The WHL had planned to return to play on Jan. 8, but announced on Tuesday (Dec. 15) it is unable to make a decision yet on what that will look like.
The league is continuing to work with its chief medical officer, Alberta Health Services and the government of Alberta on an updated return to play plan.
“We will effectively be starting the season over; we’re not just jumping back into it," Milne said. "We followed the previous plan, but with new restrictions in place, the plan will have to be updated to keep things safe for everyone involved.”