If you’re paying attention, you already know that COVID-19 had another good day on Thursday.
In fact, you have to wonder if behind closed doors junior hockey operators are starting to wonder if the 2021-22 season is going to start anywhere close to on time, at least in Western Canada. Because — and let’s be honest here — we aren’t anywhere close to seeing the end of this.
When Alberta released its Thursday numbers, they were the worst the province has seen since the pandemic began in the early days of 2020.
So, from the Department of Better Late Than Never, the Alberta government responded with restrictions that cover various cities with particularly horrendous numbers, like Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge and Red Deer, each of them home to a WHL franchise.
Part of those restrictions included this:
“All indoor fitness activities are prohibited. This includes: all group physical activities, such as team sports, fitness classes and training sessions; all one-on-one lessons and training activities; all practices, training and games.”
But never fear WHL fans because it seems your favourite teams are exempt from these restrictions. With Red Deer playing on Thursday night, Rebels interim radio voice Troy Gillard tweeted that a “team official tells me the WHL does indeed remain exempt and games will continue as scheduled.”
Other areas under the restrictions are Airdrie, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie and Strathcona County, which includes Sherwood Park.
It would appear that the AJHL, like the WHL, is exempt from the restrictions because the Grande Prairie Storm is at home to the Sherwood Park Crusaders tonight (Friday) and Saturday, with the teams to play next weekend in Sherwood Park.
The AJHL has suspended the team activities of another team — the Calgary Canucks — after a positive COVID-19 test result was identified within the team’s cohort. As per the league’s return-to-play protocols, the Canucks are on hold for at least 14 days. They were scheduled to play the Drayton Valley Thunder in Calgary tonight (Friday), on the road Sunday and May 7, and May 9 in Calgary, but those games all have been cancelled. . . .
On Tuesday, the AJHL halted team activities for the Whitecourt Wolverines and Bonnyville Pontiacs for 14 days because of a positive test in the Wolverines’ group. Those two teams had played each other on Saturday and Sunday. . . .
On Sunday, the Okotoks Oilers were put on hold for 14 days because of a positive test in their cohort. . . .
On April 23, the Drumheller Dragons experienced a positive test and they, too, were shut down for 14 days. . . .
On Wednesday, the Fort McMurray Oil Barons announced that they were ending their season out of an abundance of concern for the safety of players, billets and their community, which is under a local state of emergency. . . .
The league has seven teams up and running — Drayton Valley, Grande Prairie Storm, Sherwood Park Crusaders and Spruce Grove Saints in the North Division, and Brooks Bandits, Camrose Kodiaks and Olds Grizzlys in the South Division.
With seven teams and three two-team cohorts, the Spruce Grove Saints were left without a partner. That problem went away with the news regarding the Canucks. So the Saints are to play the Thunder tonight (Friday) in Spruce Grove and Saturday in Drayton Valley.
The AJHL schedule is to conclude on May 8.
File this under The Best Laid Plans: The Los Angeles Rams rented and outfitted a 9,000-square-foot beach house in Malibu from which their personnel was to set up shop and conduct the NFL draft. . . . On Thursday, general manager Les Snead announced that he has tested positive so will isolate at home and conduct the draft from there.
Mark Brennan, the Portland Winterhawks’ equipment manager, announced Thursday that he will retire at the end of this season. He has been the club’s equipment manager since 2012, after also working with, among others, the Detroit Red Wings and Florida Panthers. When Portland’s season ends on May 11, Brennan will have worked 2,251 games. The Winterhawks’ news release is right here.
Brennan wasn’t behind a bench on Thursday night — he’ll be there tonight with Portland playing host to the Everett Silvertips — but there were three other WHL games . . .
In Lethbridge, the Medicine Hat Tigers broke a 1-1 tie with two shorthanded goals and went on to beat the Hurricanes, 6-2. . . . Medicine Hat (13-6-1) had lost its previous three games. . . . Lethbridge is 8-11-2. . . . F Brett Kemp gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead at 6:44 of the first period, with F Jett Jones (5) getting the Hurricanes even at 12:07. . . . D Cole Clayton (9) sent the Tigers out front with the first shorthanded goal, at 3:51 of the second period, with F Nick McCarry (7) adding the second one at 10:48. . . . Medicine Hat put it away with the next three goals, too — Kemp’s second and 12th of the season, and two from F Lukas Svejkovsky, who also has 12. . . . F Ty Nash (2) got Lethbridge’s second goal on a late PP. . . .
F Cael Zimmerman’s OT goal gave the visiting Calgary Hitmen a 4-3 victory over the Red Deer Rebels. . . . The Hitmen improved to 9-7-2. . . . The Rebels (2-15-3) have lost 13 in a row (0-12-1). . . . F Josh Prokop (9) put Calgary out front, while shorthanded, at 2:39 of the first period and the teams exchanged goals through game’s end. . . . F Carter Anderson (2) got Red Deer even at 13:19, with D Jackson van de Least (3) replying for Calgary at 17:40. . . . Red Deer tied it on D Jace Weir’s second goal at 19:52. . . . F Riley Fiddler-Schultz (5) put the Hitmen back out front, 3-2, at 10:18 of the second period. . . . F Chris Douglas (6) forced OT with a Red Deer score at 12:48 of the third. . . . Zimmerman won it with his sixth goal of the season, at 4:19 of extra time. . . . Calgary F Sean Tschigel had two assists, giving him 18 points, including 10 goals, in 18 games. He went into this season with five goals and nine assists in 64 games. . . .
BTW, if you are interested in a good story about what life’s been like with the struggling Rebels who have been living in the arena since this season began, here’s a taste from D Joel Sexsmith:
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t really tough,” the 19-year-old told Byron Hackett of the Red Deer Advocate. “It hasn’t been easy here. It certainly hasn’t been easy when you’re losing, too. I think the dynamic would shift if we’d been winning all the time and we haven’t been, that’s just the reality.
“We live here, we look at the rink every day and it kind of serves as a reminder that we are where we are in the standings. I think that’s really tough mentally. I would say I’m really grateful that I’m able to go through this with this group of guys. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I love this group of guys on this team.” . . . Hackett’s complete piece is right here and it’s well worth a read. . . .
F Alex Swetlikoff broke a 3-3 tie at 18:27 of the third period as the Kelowna Rockets beat the visiting Vancouver Giants, 4-3. . . . The Rockets (7-2-0) have won four in a row. . . . The Giants (9-7-0) have lost four straight. . . . Swetlikoff’s fourth goal of the season stood up as the winner. . . . Kelowna D Jake Lee (2) had tied the game at 14:29 of the third. . . . Vancouver led this one 2-0 on two first-period goals from F Zack Ostapchuk, at 9:03 and 9:40. . . . Ostapchuk, who has six goals in 16 games this season, finished last season with five in 44 games as a freshman. . . . F Dillon Hamaliuk (4) got Kelowna’s first goal, on a PP, at 13:21. . . . The Rockets tied it on F Turner McMillen’s first WHL goal, shorthanded, at 4:19 of the second. That was Kelowna’s fifth shorthanded score in nine games. . . . McMillen was a ninth-round pick in the 2018 bantam draft. He played two games last season and this was No. 9 this season. . . . Vancouver went back out front when F Bryce Bader (4) scored at 7:40. . . . Watching the replay of the winning goal, it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s changed to F Mark Liwiski, who appeared to score off a Swetlikoff rebound.
Belarus (2-1-0) secured a quarter-final berth in the IIHF U18 World Championship in Texas on Thursday, with a 6-2 victory over Latvia (0-3-0) in Group A. . . . Sweden (2-1-0) beat Switzerland (1-2-0), 3-1, in the other Group A game. . . . In Group B, G Kaidan Mbereko stopped five shooters in the shootout as Team USA beat Czech Republic, 2-1. . . . In the other Group B game, Russia (2-0-1) skated past Germany (0-3-0), 6-1. . . . There are two games scheduled for today — Canada (2-0-0) meets Switzerland in Group A, while Finland (2-0-0) plays Germany in Group B.
My wife, Dorothy, is preparing to take part in her eighth Kamloops Kidney Walk, albeit virtually, on June 6. If you would like to be part of her team, you are able to make a donation right here.
If you are interested in being a living kidney donor, more information is available here:
Living Kidney Donor Program
St. Paul’s Hospital
6A Providence Building
1081 Burrard Street
Vancouver, BC V6Z 1Y6
Toll free: 1-877-922-9822
Vancouver General Hospital Living Donor Program – Kidney
Gordon and Leslie Diamond Health Care Centre
Level 5, 2775 Laurel Street
Vancouver, BC V5Z 1M9
604-875-5182 or 1-855-875-5182
Or, for more information, visit right here.