OLDS — Although some may have their minds on the summer heat, Olds Grizzlys head coach and general manager Scott Atkinson is anticipating the next hockey season.
Plans discussed in the spring call for the club to hold a pre-camp Aug. 23-26, then start the main camp on Aug. 27.
Aug. 27 is also the date for the fourth annual Friends of the Grizzlys golf tournament, which is following a Texas scramble format, with a 10 a.m. shotgun start at the Olds Golf Club.
Exhibition games begin Sept. 1. The team’s first league game occurs Sept. 17 when they host the Canmore Eagles.
“Our exhibition schedule is pretty robust,” Atkinson said during an interview, noting they play eight exhibition games from Sept. 1-12.
Atkinson said that lengthy exhibition season will give him and his staff a chance to take a long look at players.
He anticipates the main camp lasting about four days, after which the first batch of cuts will occur.
“Then we’ll get into the exhibition season and after the games, every weekend, we’ll cut down, kind of thing,” Atkinson said.
He agreed the wild card is what impact COVID-19 will have on the league and the team this season. It forced the league to pause its season late last year, then resume an abbreviated season this past spring.
After trending downward in spring, COVID-19 cases have begun surging in Alberta again, just a few weeks after the government lifted virtually all COVID restrictions in the province.
A hundred new cases were reported July 22, then 173 new ones on July 23, the highest daily figures since mid-June.
The highly contagious Delta variant is fuelling that surge as it’s now the dominant COVID strain, accounting for more than 80 per cent of the active cases involving variants.
And young adults comprise nearly 40 per cent of those new cases, even though they only comprise 13 per cent of Alberta’s population.
“I just think it’s hard to predict. I mean, you look at what’s going on around the world. Some places seem like it’s no problem and some places it seems like as soon as they open things back up, it becomes an issue again; all these variants,” Atkinson said. “So we just have to play it by ear, right?”
Assuming the schedule goes as currently constructed, the Grizzlys start the new season with a four-game homestand Sept. 17-25.
They play their home opener against the Canmore Eagles, then host the league’s newest entry, the Blackfalds Bulldogs, on Sept. 18, followed by the Brooks Bandits on Sept. 24 and the Camrose Kodiaks on Sept. 25.
The Grizzlys will participate in the AJHL Showcase, hosted by the Brooks Bandits, which runs from Sept. 30-Oct. 3.
They return to the Sportsplex Oct. 5 to host the Okotoks Oilers before heading out on a three-game road trip as the season gets underway in earnest.