The cancellation of the WHL season nearly one month ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic will have the Lethbridge Hurricanes forever wondering what could have been in 2019-20.
The league announced that the regular season had concluded on March 18, 11 days after the Hurricanes (37-19-7) had played what would turn out to be their final game — a 5-4 loss — in Kelowna.
For Lethbridge native and Hurricanes rookie Zack Stringer, the news meant an unexpected end to his first full season in the league.
“Going into the start of the season, you wouldn’t really picture it ending in the way it did,” Stringer said. “But it was really fun and I learned a lot of stuff… but I would have wanted it to go longer.”
The blow of the cancelled season also meant the end of a WHL career for some.
“It was just an element of shock,” said Koletrane Wilson, an over-aged defenseman playing in his third and final season with the team.
“It just came to such an abrupt stop. Like our last game against Kelowna… we had no idea it was our last game, no idea our last shift was our last shift.”
Wilson was of three 1999-born players on the Canes’ roster this season — including Ty Prefontaine and Brett Davis — that won’t get a proper send-off.
Wilson suited up for Lethbridge in a total of 216 combined regular and post-season games, and the gritty blueliner quickly became a fan favourite. Always ready to stand up for his teammates, Wilson logged a combined 210 penalty minutes over the past two seasons.
The Edmonton native said not getting the opportunity to see what this year’s roster could have been and say a proper goodbye hurts the most.
“That’s probably the biggest sting. I mean, obviously, hockey-wise, it sucks we didn’t get to go the distance and play the hockey we wanted to be playing, but at the same time, hockey only goes so far. I built a lot of relationships in Lethbridge. It was my home for four years,” Wilson said.
On Tuesday, Wilson secured his home for the 2020-21 hockey season, signing his first professional contract with the AHL’s Stockton Heat.
For now, it’s an extra-long off-season for both Wilson and Stringer, as one prepares for his first NHL camp — as Stockton is part of the Calgary Flames organization — and the other gets ready to take on a bigger role in Lethbridge.
“I’m taking it to my advantage,” said Wilson. “I’m going to use it to get ready for my first pro camp.”
Stringer battled injuries throughout the 2019-20 season.
The Hurricanes will draft its next wave of players on April 22, as they pick 16th overall in the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft.View link »