By RYAN MCCRACKEN on October 9, 2020.
South Alberta Hockey Academy’s U18 male prep squad will officially drop the puck on its first season in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League on Oct. 16 – though the campaign will have a bit of a different feel due to COVID-19.
With a schedule designed to maximize competition while following Alberta Health Guidelines to the letter, SAHA’s U18 male squad will enter a regional schedule comprised of three-game sets with three different teams, and a 14-day break from competition in between each series.
“You’ve got seven days to play three games against a team, then following that seven days it’s 14 days of no competition. Then there’s another window to play three games, then 14 days of no competition,” said SAHA program development co-ordinator Darren MacMillan, adding SAHA’s U18 female squad is also looking to kick off its season on the same weekend, pending confirmation from the league. “We’re looking at doing a couple exhibition games on that same weekend.”
MacMillan says with so much uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and the possibility of changes to public health guidelines, the CSSHL’s Albertan organizations put their heads together to form a schedule that adheres to provincial parameters while leaving open the possibility for a return to regular play in 2021.
“I think for the longest time, everyone was projecting. The scheduling was all being pushed off because we were projecting, well what if we get to here, or what if we get to here? Finally we just said we need to build a schedule based on what we’re allowed to do right now,” he said. “They wanted to do it so it culminates before Christmas as well, hoping that if things open up and everything else, that we can expand.”
There are five Albertan CSSHL programs with U18 boys teams and two with U17 squads. As a result, MacMillan says U17 squads will split time playing U18 and U16 teams, resulting in matchups like SAHA’s opening series against the Edge U17s. That set will be played Oct. 16-17 at the FLC and Oct. 18 in Calgary.
SAHA’s U18 male squad will then host all three games against Northern Alberta Xtreme from Nov. 6-8 before making the trip to Edmonton for three games against Calgary’s International Hockey Academy, Nov. 27-29. The top two teams in the regional bracket at the end of nine games will meet for a best-of-three championship series, Dec. 18-20, while the remaining squads will pair up for to play for third and fifth place.
SAHA’s U18 female squad is working on locking down an opponent for opening weekend, but MacMillan says their season will consist of series against the Edge and NAX, and with any luck another round for the title.
“There’s only three (Alberta U18 female) teams so we’ll have a weekend series against Edge, we’ll have a weekend series against NAX,” he said. “The problem is the first weekend, Edge and NAX are playing each other, that’s why we’re going to try to get another team to play against. Then there’s 14 days of no competition, then we play Edge, then 14 days of no competition and then we play NAX. Since there’s only three of us, they’re just going to do a best-of-three, 1 vs. 2 before Christmas.”
MacMillan added teams will still be able to practice as a group, or cohort, during their 14-day non-competition periods.
As for the on-ice action, MacMillan says there will be a few changes to help limit the spread of COVID-19. The biggest change is that officials will be on the ice in a non-contact capacity, so things like post-whistle scrums will have a zero-tolerance policy attached moving forward.
“I know there’s lots of interesting rules that are in place around conduct to help officials,” he said. “We got a full package from Hockey Canada that addresses that stuff as well. It’s really interesting, you think of something like no scrums after the whistle and those types of things with zero tolerance, I think that’s going to be amazing for hockey.”
Fan access will unfortunately be limited, says MacMillan, as the Family Leisure Centre currently has a 60-spectator limit, which he anticipates will be almost exclusively reserved for parents. However, MacMillan says SAHA is looking into ways to provide fans with access to live streams of games online.