The Lethbridge U-18 AAA Hurricanes will begin the 2020-2021 Alberta Elite Hockey League (AEHL) season in Okotoks on Thursday night after a lengthy tryout process that a lot of good players didn’t make it through.
“It’s always tough to get down to those final numbers,” said head coach Sean Gillam. “I think we had close to 100 kids trying out, and you have to get down to 20.”
But throw in a pandemic, and the talent pool gets even more competitive.
“You’re going to get some guys that actually could be playing in the (Western Hockey League) playing U-18 this year, so the skill level (and) the compete level should be better,” Gillam said.
“The speed, the pace — that will all be better too.”
Six players on the ‘Canes roster were drafted by WHL clubs coming out of bantam in 2019 and 2020, including:
- Rylen Roersma (F): drafted 16th overall by the Brandon Wheat Kings in 2019
- Ty Young (G): drafted 158th overall by the Prince George Cougars in 2019
- Ayden Peters (F): drafted 193rd overall by the Lethbridge Hurricanes in 2019
- Erick Roest (G): drafted 215th overall by the Lethbridge Hurricanes in 2019
- Ty Fraser (F): drafted 94th overall by the Winnipeg Ice in 2020
- John Szabo (F): drafted 111th overall by the Edmonton Oil Kings in 2020
“The roster has been a little tight since we have more guys coming back, and I feel like the league is going to be a lot stronger because they got those guys from the WHL all playing this year,” said Hurricanes captain Joel Mabin.
The WHL will not begin the 2020-2021 season until the new year.
Normally, players like Rylen Roersma would be pushing for full-time spots in the WHL in the fall, but instead, the first round draft pick of the Brandon Wheat Kings will suit up for his hometown ‘Canes on Thursday night when the season begins.
Roersma said he’s excited to see how the altered schedule — which will see teams face off in three-game series — will impact the compete level.
“I feel like it will be more of a playoff atmosphere,” Roersma said. “It will be a lot more competitive when we’re playing teams continuously.”
The Hurricanes will face four teams in three-game sets between now and the end of 2019, with mandatory 14-day “development periods” between each matchup. If all goes to plan, the group will play 12 games before the new year.
Gillam said he expects the schedule to lead to more heated rivalries with his team employing a playoff mentality, trying to win at least two out of every three games.
First on the schedule, the Hurricanes head to Okotoks to face the Bow Mark U-18 AAA Oilers on Thursday night.