Things may not look the same at school, in the stands, or even on the bench, but for the Calgary Canucks, there’s a comforting sense of normalcy in being back on the ice.
“It’s just kind of a relief,” forward Jesse Carr said. “We didn’t really know where the season was going to be at during the spring and summer with COVID.”
Under Alberta’s Stage 2 relaunch guidelines, the AJHL is not eligible to start playing games.
Instead, the league is holding a development season — essentially holding extended training camps to help the teams prepare for an eventual return-to-play.
“As anxious as we all are to return to competition and embrace our communities, public safety and the safety of our athletes has to be the priority,” AJHL Commissioner Ryan Bartoshyk said in a statement.
“The Alberta Junior Hockey League will be poised to immediately resume regular-season competition when provincial regulations allow.”
In the meantime, that means a lot of scrimmages and drills.
“It’s a new norm, but we’re working our way through it, trying to get the guys better, so hopefully when we get the green light we’ll be ready to go,” Canucks head coach Brad Moran said.
“I think it’s a mental grind for them. It’s a lot of practice and we’ve got to find ways to keep it interesting.”
Veteran players say it was an easy decision to return to the AJHL for their final year, but with many of them on the hunt for scholarships, they’ll have to work harder to attract universities.
Carr is one of them.
“It’s a big year for a lot of 20-year-old guys, just to show what they have in their last season the A-J,” Carr said. “We can, you know, reach out to schools at any time. Academics are a big part of it too, so they can look at the LSAT scores, stuff like that and obviously just putting in the work off-ice.”
A newer face on the team, Colin MacPherson, was traded back to his hometown Canucks midway through the shortened 2019-2020 season. This is his final year of junior hockey eligibility.
“I’d love to play hockey for as long as I can,” the 6’6″, 235-pound defenceman said. “Whether that’s university, professional, whatever happens. Obviously, we have to play games first but I’ll go from there.”
“Without the games, it’s tough, but we’ll have to find a way,” Moran added.
“If we’re playing exhibition games, maybe those are streamed so scouts can watch them… Eventually, we’re going to get back to normal and these schools are going to need players, so they’re going to have to have guys ready to go.”
As an added wrinkle, 2020 also marks the Canucks’ 50th year in the league.
The team may have to get creative, but staff say they’ll find some way to celebrate the milestone.
But for Jesse Carr, there’s only one way to celebrate.
“A couple of wins, I think, would be good.”