The Brooks Bandits have a long history of winning, and right now the team’s focus in on winning some more, whenever the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) gives the green light for teams to play again.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced a premature end to the 2019-2020 season; a season in which the Bandits were looking to defend both their 2019 AJHL Championship and 2019 National Junior A Championship titles.
“I think our biggest thing is just getting prepared for when they say we’re ready to go,” said Bandits assistant coach Taylor Makin. “If that’s, you know, in a month or two months, we’re just trying to get as prepared as we can for when we’re allowed to play.”
But there’s no games in sight yet for the AJHL, so the coaching staff has been tasked with keeping players motivated and ensuring the bar stays high at practice.
“I know as a former player, you want to play the games,” Makin said. “You’re always kind of looking forward to the weekend and getting ready to go.
“It will be a unique challenge for us to keep it fresh [and] keep it interesting as practice can kind of drag on.”
But less than a week into training camp, the players say the pace hasn’t been a problem.
“We have to motivate ourselves every practice,” said defenceman Corson Ceulemans. “Every guy has got to be going, talking, battling against each other. Even though it’s just camp, we still gotta be going, being physical.”
Forward Chris Pappas said creating that internal competition hasn’t been hard.
“Practising the way you play, that’s just kind of the mentality around here,” Pappas said. “No matter what the drill, everyone is going 120 per cent.”
Pappas said the returning players feel a sense of unfinished business after their playoff run was cancelled in the spring.
“It was my first year as a Bandit last year, so I didn’t get the Bandit playoff experience, which I wasn’t too happy about,” he said. “But you know, there’s always this year, and I hope everything goes the way it’s supposed to go, and that’s all you can really ask for.”
While the team waits for the AJHL to give the go-ahead, they are bringing some hockey back to Bandits fans.
Tuesday was the first of five intra-squad games scheduled so far. A $5 entry fee allows fans to attend, at limited capacity.
“People were lining up to come in,” Pappas said with a laugh. “We’re only allowed 100 people, but that’s better than nothing, so the support from the town is just awesome around here.”
When the season does get up and running, the Bandits will be looking to break their own AJHL record from 2019, with 22-straight wins to start the year.