Edmonton Oil Kings players are currently in isolation, ahead of a 24-game season that will be played within the boundaries of the province.
Alberta is the only province so far to give the green light for hockey to be played. That means five clubs based in the province — the Red Deer Rebels, Edmonton Oil Kings, Lethbridge Hurricanes, Medicine Hat Tigers and Calgary Hitmen — will form a Central Division and play the entire 24-game season in Alberta, starting on Feb. 26.
On ice training sessions are due to begin Feb. 12, with the season opening on Friday, Feb. 26. Teams will play in a home and home on the weekends, with five days between games and the next opponent.
“It’ll be different for sure,” said Oil Kings forward Jake Neighbours. “I think the guys are just happy to get back seeing each other and being around each other, it’s been way too long.”
There’s certainly hope that if everyone is able to stay healthy, more games can be played in a week.
“Right now with bye weeks if we play 24 games, with bye weeks, we’re playing until the first weekend of June,” said Hill. “So it’s a lengthy period to only play 24 games, but if that’s the way it is and that’s what keeps us safe and healthy, we’ll do it.”
There are strict protocols in place with private testing being done regularly. Teams are given options on where players live, and the Oil Kings have opted to go with a small group of billets with two players at each house. This is an effort to keep mental health of players in check, rather than living in a hotel as a partial bubble.
“We’re gonna start there,” said general manager Kirt Hill. “If it doesn’t work we have contingency plans, where then we’ll look to go in a bubble.”
This season will be a lot about development, especially with so much time in between games. A lot of practice, and extra time in the weight room. Which in a normal year, could be a good thing.
“Talking to the players about that,” said Hill. “They’ve been training for the last 11 months in the gym so they’re like ‘Oh jeez, I’d rather be playing four games a week. It’s the cards we’re dealt right now.
“The guys are gonna be spending a lot of time at the rink, so we’re gonna get creative with making that atmosphere fun for them and making sure they have their own little spaces in there to hang out as a group, as well.”
The schedule has not been released.
–with a file from The Canadian Press