The Alberta Junior Hockey League could be playing games that count in the standings long before the WHL and the NHL.
The league is expected to meet later this week to discuss starting the regular reason. The earliest possible date for puck drop is Nov. 13.
“Teams have been playing exhibition games within cohorts,” explained 630 CHED Sports’ Brenden Escott, who also calls play-by-play for the Sherwood Park Crusaders. “The regular season would have started in the second week of September.”
“For our players, the routine has been able to stay similar to what it what would normally be,” said Spruce Grove Saints head coach Bram Stephen. “We practice daily during the week. We’ve been playing some exhibition games on the weekend.”
Alberta Health Services recently expanded the size of the cohort for junior and college teams from 50 to 150. That would allow AJHL clubs to play four or five teams over a two-week period, then take a week off before moving on to a different cohort.
“That would allow for a schedule that’s more in line with a normal regular season,” said Escott.
There are 15 teams in the AJHL; eight in the North Division and seven in the South. It’s likely teams would only play games within their division in 2020/21. To cut down on travel, a team could spend three or four days in another town to rattle off a series of games.
The AJHL relies heavily on ticket sales to generate revenue. While that would take a big hit, current regulations allow for 100 fans to be in attendance.
“It’s better than nothing,” said Escott. “At least you’d have meaningful games to showcase. Hockey fans are starved for action right now, so the AJHL is a unique position to fill a demand.”
“From a perspective of having players ready to play games in a season, most teams would be comfortable basically starting tomorrow,” said Stephen.
The WHL has set Jan. 8 as its target return date. The NHL won’t start before Jan. 1.