By Dale Woodard
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Go ahead and ask the Lethbridge Hurricanes what their New Year’s Resolution is.
As of earlier this month, that became a little easier to answer.
After the COVID-19 pandemic iced their season March 12 prior to the postseason, the Western Hockey League announced they will open the season on Jan. 8, 2021.
“I think from a league standpoint and from our players’ standpoint it’s exciting we’ve nailed down a date that we’re going to play,” said Hurricanes general manager Peter Anholt. “I know all of our staff is excited and certainly any of our players we have reached out to already. We’ll have a meeting with them on a Zoom call and lay out some things.”
“There are still a lot of questions to be answered about things, but at least we know we’re going to move forward as a league. It’s exciting and credit to our owners around our league to step up like they have. There are so many questions, but for our owners to step up like they have is a real significant part of this.”
If the season opener is a New Year’s Resolution for the Canes, it’ll double as a birthday gift for Carl Tetachuk as the Lethbridge-born goaltender turns 20 on opening night, starting his third season with his hometown team.
It’s been a long wait,” said Tetachuk. “I’m pretty excited to get things started in January and I’m pretty sure all the team is pretty pumped about it.”
“Whenever you hear about a potential date it’s excitement. But you also know it’s not going to be for sure, so you just have to keep working hard and hoping for the best.”
The WHL said in a statement that players will report to their respective WHL clubs following the Christmas break, where they will begin training in preparation for the opening of the regular season.
The question remains if fans will be in Enmax Centre seats due to pandemic protocols, but Anholt focused on getting back to playing for now.
“Right now we’re planning on playing and at this point there aren’t any fans in any sporting events (in Canada),” said Anholt. “But that needle could move by January, we’ll see. But at this point our league and our ownership and our league office has decided we’re going to play regardless and hopefully things will either lighten up by that point or whatever, but right now we’re
playing and that’s the real key to this whole thing.”
Teams will only play in their division to minimize travel and eliminate cross-border trips.
So Canes fans can get ready for hefty doses of the Edmonton Oil Kings, Red Deer Rebels, Calgary Hitmen and Medicine Hat Tigers.
“For the five teams in Alberta, we’re excited about our division,” said Anholt. “It’s a hard division and there are lots of good teams. So from our standpoint and our fans it’s an exciting division to be in. So I think that’s a really positive side of it. The level of play in our division is always so high.”
On the subject of borders, Anholt said the plan is to get Euros Oliver Okuliar and Danila Palivko back on Canadian soil by January.
“There are some hoops that have to be gone through because of the international travel. But again, we’ll leave that to the Canadian Hockey League and their work with the federal government on that. But at this point, we most certainly plan on having Okuliar and Palivko back.”
Anholt said the team’s quick training camp after the holiday season will consist of players expected to make the team.
“I think from our standpoint we have a pretty good idea who is going to play,” he said. “The young guys are already playing back home with their teams, I can’t see us pulling many guys away from their teams to come in just to be with us. We’re going to have an extended season anyway and we’ll probably go longer than what they would go.”
“It’ll still give us the opportunity to bring them in later or have some different visitations. I don’t think we’ll be in that situation where we’ll bring a lot of players in. I think we have a pretty good handle on who will play on our team and I think from our standpoint our coaches have a short window on getting ready for our league. So I think we would put them at a disadvantage by bringing in too many players for a short period of time.”
In the meantime, Tetachuk and teammate and fellow Lethbridge product Zack Stringer have strapped on the blades.
“I’ve gotten a lot of ice time in the last couple of months with our skills coach, Matt Anholt,” said Tetachuk. “Obviously, me and Stringer and a couple of guys from the team come down, so we’ve been skating quite a bit.”
As for playing for a potentially empty rink, Tetachuk said it would be an adjustment.
“But as long as we get to play I have no complaints. The fans would be great, but it’s all about the hockey.”