March 11, 2020 is a day that will forever live in infamy.
That night, NBA player Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 and the world suddenly awoke to the dangers of the virus.
The Red Deer Rebels had just wrapped up a 6-2 victory over the Swift Current Broncos – it’s unlikely that anyone at that time could have predicted it would be the last they would play in 2020.
The Western Hockey League paused its season the following day and by March 18, the remainder of the season had been scrapped.
“It’s been a process through all this. Everything is being determined by what’s going on. At that time when we put the regular season on pause, it was not where it’s at today. Things are changing drastically by the hour,” Rebels Owner, GM and head coach Brent Sutter said at the time.
The virus wasn’t done there. Not even close.
The pandemic swung into full force later that month and put the majority of spring and summer sports on hold as well.
With almost everything in the sports world halted, Albertans and Canadians flocked to golf courses as soon as they opened in early May.
Golf Canada recorded one of the busiest summers on record for golf courses. The National Golf Course Owners Association said in July, Alberta reported a 21 per cent increase in rounds of golf over 2019. In September, the NGCOA said that 2020 year-to-date rounds nationally were up almost 10 per cent.
“Back in April, the uncertainty from COVID-19 and government-mandated closures meant that the entire golf season was at serious risk”, said Jeff Calderwood, CEO of the NGCOA Canada in September.
“And now we’re tracking for record-setting 2020 results.”
Pro sports did carry on throughout the summer, with golf and baseball handing out major championships. The Stanley Cup was handed out on Sept. 29 in Edmonton, albeit it wasn’t the Oilers who hoisted it.
That honour went to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who endured months in a bubble in order to do so, first in Toronto than in Edmonton.
Alberta wore it like a badge of honour that the NHL choice Edmonton to be one of the two bubble cities for the re-start and playoffs.
“Thanks to the league for making the right call and bringing the Stanley Cup back to Alberta, back to Edmonton. Really in so many ways, the beating heart of hockey on the Canadian Prairies,” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said on a Zoom press conference in July.
As fall approached, it looked like the province had turned a corner in its management of the pandemic. But as schools opened, the virus spiked again and the sports world was left waiting.
Minor hockey had barely got underway, as local teams got a few games under their belt before temporary restrictions put play on a three-week hiatus.
A week later, that turned into a full lockdown and sports in Alberta, at least at the lower level face an uphill battle to get going once again in the new year.
The 2021 World Junior Hockey Championships, scheduled to be played in Red Deer and Edmonton was moved to a bubble in Edmonton. Red Deer hosted Canada for a selection camp, which was halted for 14-days after two players tested positive for COVID-19.
As the vaccine for the virus began rollout on Dec. 16, there is hope around the province and country that life will be getting back to normal and one can only hope, that means the same for sports.