A sense of normalcy slipped through the grasp of many this summer, but for young hockey players over the last month, a return to the rink has brought some semblance of the old days.
In the dog days of the COVID-19 pandemic, minor hockey seemed like a distant dream. Thursday, the newly named Alberta Elite Hockey League announced the competitive schedule for the 2o20-21 season.
With tryouts complete and the roster set, the Red Deer U15AAA Rebels will begin the new season Oct. 17 on home ice at Servus Arena.
With only 100 fans allowed to be in attendance, it will be a bit different experience, but it will still be hockey.
Rebels head coach Justin Jarmolicz from the moment they stepped on the ice in September, every session has been a special one for his group.
“It was an unbelievable feeling when we get back in the rink. You could tell, just with the way the kids competed once we got to our cohort group. You can tell they’ve been missing it,” he said.
“It just shows, every day is a blessing and it’s a privilege to have sport. Now they get to seize that every day they come to the rink. When it’s taken away from you, you realize how much you miss it.”
Jarmolicz said they only have three returning players this season, with Spencer Claerhout and Emmett Barnett on defence and Caleb Hadland up front. He said they will still have an older group this year, but size will be their advantage.
“We’re an older team this year, we’ve only got one first-year kid,” Jarmolicz said.
“We’re a bigger team than we’ve been the last couple years, but we really didn’t give up any skill. We’ve got six D that could be picked in the (WHL Bantam) Draft. That’s how deep we are… we’re going to be hard to play against.”
That talent in part comes from a reputation they have built with the AAA program over the last few years. They were the Alberta Bantam Hockey league south champions last year and in 2018-19 they lost in the provincial championship. Over the last four years, they have had 19 players selected in the WHL Bantam Draft.
“When we bring them in, it’s the same work ethic and dynamic that we’ve had to establish this culture the last five years. That’s where it all starts and you tweak it from there,” he said.
The rest of the U15AAA Rebels roster includes Connor Baumbach, Dylan Ronald, Maddox Mason, Riley Yzerman, Ryan Seeley, Matthew Deaver, Ethan Wyzykoski, Brady Leroux, Cooper Moore, Tristan Visser, William Jamieson, Tristen Buckley, Liam Steele, Walker Overwater, Brett Leslie and Brandon Broks.
The home opener is Oct. 17 at 2 p.m. for the Rebels against the Leduc Oil Kings.
The Red Deer U18AAA Optimist Chiefs will be one of the first teams in the area to hit the ice in the AEHL, dropping the puck on Oct. 16 against the Airdrie CFR Bisons at 8 p.m. at Servus Arena.
The Red Deer U16AAA North Stars will open the season on the road, before hosting the Leduc Techmation Oil Kings on Nov. 8 at Servus Arena at 12 p.m.
On the female side, the Red Deer Sutter Fund Chiefs will start play in November, with their home opener scheduled for Nov.14 at RDC at 3:15 p.m.