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What you need to know about COVID-19: October 20, 2020
Better late than never, in October instead of June, the annual drafting of NHL entry-level players has finally been done.
But now what?
While the NHL moves on to Free Agent Frenzy Friday, what about the other side of it?
What about the just drafted players returning to junior hockey and the next crop of kids trying to position themselves to be able to hear their names called in next season’s NHL Entry Draft?
When will they be able to play? Will they even have a season?
They just started playing games in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and already 18 players from one team, the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, just tested positive for COVID-19.
The Ontario Hockey League is looking at the ridiculous Ontario provincial proposal of not allowing body checking.
Projections of mid-November training camp openings and a Dec. 4 start the Western Hockey League season at this moment look rather optimistic.
You should know the Canadian Hockey League has just come out with its initial set of top-10 rankings.
1. Sherbrooke Phoenix.
2. Edmonton Oil Kings.
3. Oshawa Generals.
4. Val-D’Or Foreurs.
5. London Knights.
6. Kamloops Blazers.
7. Saginaw Spirit.
8. Saint John Sea Dogs.
9. Portland Winter Hawks.
10. Chicoutimi Sagueneens.
In the cyclical world of junior hockey, that would tell you this is a rather important season for the Edmonton Oil Kings.
In the cycle, it’s their prime time Memorial Cup season.
The Oil Kings, who made it to the 2012 Memorial Cup in Shawinigan, Que., and were back and won it two years later in London, Ont., this is the season an organization builds toward when they’ve dropped down to the bottom of the league, like Edmonton did to finish dead last and win the rights to select Dylan Guenther No. 1 overall in the 2018 bantam draft. Guenther begins his NHL draft year as soon as they’re able to drop the puck, a potential first-overall pick.
Last season, Brad Lauer coached the Oil Kings to a 42-12-6-4 record for a 94-point season before COVID-19 shut it all down and took away the opportunity for the team to knock on the door.
It wasn’t as devastating as it was for the Sherwood Park Crusaders Alberta Junior Hockey League team that, after 41 seasons of history, mostly as a floundering franchise, had given themselves an excellent opportunity to win the Canadian Tier 2 title.
The Cru was ranked No. 1 in the nation with a 49-9-0 record and had scored 143 more goals than they’d given up when the coronavirus pandemic shut everything down.
For the Oil Kings, this is the season they’re supposed to peak. It’s the year for the three-time Memorial Cup Champions, dating back to their first two titles in 1963 and ’66, to knock it down and win a fourth. But when will the season start? And will there even be a season?
The WHL is a gate-driven league with franchises in the four western provinces and two US states involving a border that remains closed.
At the NHL Entry Draft on Tuesday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman projected a regular-season start date from Dec. 1 to Jan. 1. And you know the International Ice Hockey Federation world junior championship is scheduled for Rogers Place in Edmonton, Dec. 26-Jan. 5, with no fans in the stands.
Oil Kings general manager Kirt Hill says it’s not going to be an easy puzzle to put together.
“It’s hard to predict, not just with the pandemic itself but with four different provincial health authorities plus those in two U.S. states. It poses lots of challenges.”
There’s obviously the possibility of the teams in Portland, Seattle, Spokane, Everett and Tri-Cities starting the schedule playing games against each other.
“We might be playing exclusively against the Alberta teams to start the season,” speculated Hill.
My guess is that they’ll find a way for these kids to play, but for starters, in the case of the Oil Kings, it might be in the community rink before 100-200 fans against Red Deer, Calgary, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.
While Hill believes this group will have two Memorial Cup opportunities, this season and next, the 2020-21 edition of the team is definitely being picked to click.
“On paper, we really like our club,” he said, with Guenther in his draft year and Jake Neighbours, just selected in the first round by the St. Louis Blues, likely returning along with seven quality 19 year olds.
It’s difficult not to be experiencing any angst right now whether you are Guenther, any of the other Oil Kings, GM Hill, coach Lauer or anybody else in the organization.
“It’s just strange being in October and not having players here, not going to the rink and not having our season underway,” said Hill.
And having the first set of CHL rankings come out and being picked No. 2 just added to the angst.
On Twitter: @byterryjones
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