OLDS — The Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) has postponed the start of the regular season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead, it will start the 2020-21 campaign with a development season beginning Aug. 31. Plans for the 2021 AJHL playoffs as well as regional and national junior A championships will be determined at a later date.
Olds Grizzlys head coach-GM Scott Atkinson says it’s all a good thing for the Grizzlys.
“We get more time to develop,” he said during an interview.
He agreed the development season is essentially an extended training camp.
“We’re a team that’s got to get better and we have a lot of young players and we have a lot of guys coming in who have no experience at the junior A level,” Atkinson said.
“So in my mind, I mean, I’m disappointed by the season and the whole COVID situation I guess on a global scale, but that’s the way life is right now and I actually think it’s going to help us.”
“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 news release.
“The Alberta Junior Hockey League will be poised to immediately resume regular season competition when provincial regulations allow,” he added.
Players will have the option to register for a respective team’s development season or opt out of the camp.
“The development season will meet the needs of both the league and its athletes by allowing teams to actively prepare for the upcoming season while providing players an opportunity for high-calibre training and development,” the AJHL news release says.
Trent Wilhauk, the Grizzlys’ vice-president and governor, was asked what the postponement means for the team financially.
He said he’s hoping advertisers and sponsors will be patient and remain on board.
“We hope that our sponsors and advertisers are on a footing that they will continue to support the club like they have in the past. Or we could find new ways that they could help as well,” he said.
The news release was unclear as to whether fans would be allowed to watch players in action during the development camp.
“That’s a hard question to answer right now because once again, we’re in consultation with Alberta Health Services and of course the Town of Olds and what they’re comfortable with in allowing people in the building,” Wilhauk said.
“Like I said, at the end of the day, we want to do what’s right and have protection of not only our players, but our staff and of course the fans too that do want to come.
“Like everything, it’s a fluid situation and we’ll have to play that one by ear at this point in time.”
The same thing goes for the regular season. It’s unclear what the rules will be for fans in the stands, but Wilhauk indicated the Grizzlys will need as many as possible.
“With the Alberta Junior Hockey League we’re a gate-driven league so we’ve got to have a certain number of fans in the stands to be able to survive. So our league will not operate if you’re only allowed 100 people in the building,” he said, stressing the league is doing everything it can to open up safely for everyone involved.
Meanwhile, the Grizzlys announced the signing of another player: forward Jaxon Danilec of the Sicamous Eagles who played in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) last season.
Danilec stands 6'1" and weighs 175 pounds.
While playing in that Junior B league, Danilec scored 29 goals and racked up 57 points as well as 123 penalty minutes in 43 games.
“He was a top 10 scorer in that league and I know him and I think he can help us,” Atkinson said.