The only thing certain about the projected start of the 2020-2021 Western Hockey League season is that nothing is certain.
The league hopes to open on Jan. 8, but that date — or at least the run-up to the date — could still be in jeopardy due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“That’s the date we’re striving for but obviously there still needs to be communication with the government health ministry to make sure all the right protocols are in place,” Red Deer Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter said this week.
The league is following the direction of Dr. Dhiren Naidu, the Edmonton Oilers and Edmonton Football Team head physician.
“We’re working with him concerning protocols and we’ll just have to see what happens after Christmas as far as testing requirements and all the protocols involved with players, staff, billets . . . you name it,” said Sutter.
“So there’s no date, no one knows for sure when the kids would report after Christmas. Who knows, we might only be practising for three to four days and then jumping right into regular-season games if Jan. 8 is the date we start playing.”
Sutter said the club will not conduct a training camp. Instead, a roster of 22 players — including 19 returnees and a handful of prime prospects — will practise for a short period prior to the start of the season.
“The way it looks right now it will just be basically our team,” said Sutter. “The most people we’ll be allowed to have, with coaches, players and training staff, is 30.”
Starting this week, at least four Rebels players — and perhaps five — will be sharpening their skills with junior A teams until mid-December due to temporary player transfers granted by the WHL.
Zak Smith will join the Neepawa Natives of the MJHL, while Jaxsen Wiebe will compete with the Nipawin Hawks of the SJHL and Dallon Melin, Mason Ward and perhaps Chase Leslie will play in the AJHL — Melin and Leslie (pending) with the Camrose Kodiaks and Ward with the Lloydminster Bobcats.
“It is what it is. They wanted to do this and it’s certainly there for them,” said Sutter. “The players and their agents did the initial work and the communication on it, with the cooperation of the junior A teams.”
Meanwhile, three Rebels — centre Jayden Grubbe and defencemen Kyle Masters and Christoffer Sedoff — are on Central Scouting’s players to watch list for the 2021 NHL entry draft. All three are ranked as ‘C’ prospects — prospective fourth- to sixth-round selections.
Sedoff was ranked by Central Scouting for this year’s NHL draft conducted on Oct. 6-7, but was not selected.