Assumingly, hardcore Red Deer Rebels fans have suffered through the most recent weeks of the longest off-season in franchise history.
Imagine then how slowly the more than six-month layoff has idled by for veteran forward Chris Douglas.
“It has been a long off-season. I’ve never experienced one like this, nothing even close,” Douglas said during the weekend, just a day or two after the 2020-21 WHL season would have started if not for the COVID pandemic.
“Just seems like never ending, really, to be honest . . . just never knowing when it’s going to end.”
If the season was to start tomorrow instead of the floating Dec. 4 date, Douglas would be prepped and ready to go.
“I’ve been training pretty much through the whole thing. I’ve taken a week off here and there but other than that I’ve been training the whole time and now I’m doing some school as well,” he said from his home in Richmond. B.C.
“Previously I was in the gym around four times a week and on the ice five to six times a week. Lately I’ve toned it down to three to four times a week, just not knowing when I’m going to go back (to Red Deer).”
If the season does start in early December as planned, training camp would likely get underway in mid-November.
“November is the plan so I’m planning to ramp up my training routine close to the date if everything looks good with COVID,” said Douglas. “That’s been the plan for me.”
The six-foot-one, 184-pound right winger turned 20 in July and is pretty much pencilled in as one of the Rebels’ three overage players — joining forward Josh Tarzwell and possibly netminder Ethan Anders — for the 2020-21 season.
But Douglas doesn’t expect to be merely handed a spot on the opening-night roster. He wants to secure his berth the old-fashioned way — he wants to earn it.
“One hundred per cent. I have a spot on the team that I have to keep every year regardless of my age,” he said. “I just want to be a leader on the team this season and do the best I can to put my best foot forward.”
Douglas was a Rebels alternate captain last season and will almost assuredly have a letter stitched on his jersey during the ’20-21 campaign.
“I like that (leadership) role,” he admitted. “To be honest it doesn’t change very much as a player for me. I feel that regardless of whether there’s a letter on my jersey I’m still going to try and lead the same way.
“Having a letter is obviously nice but it doesn’t change too much for me on and off the ice. I just try and set that example the same way.”
The shortened 2019-20 season — his fourth with the Rebels — was a bit of a downer Douglas confessed, and not simply because the team was already eliminated from playoff contention when the pin was pulled on March 12.
Douglas scored 12 goals through 63 games, three less than his tally total the previous season. He did, however, contribute 23 assists for 35 points, three more than he accumulated in 2018-19.
Still, Douglas is confident he’s capable of setting a 20-goal — or better — pace in a ’20-21 season that might be whittled down to somewhere in the range of 50 games if the start date is pushed to January.
“I hope so. One of the main focuses for me after watching video during the summer has been goal scoring,” he said. “I didn’t produce as much as I would have liked so that’s definitely been a focus for me during the off-season . . . just figuring out really why that was.
“I have good coaches here go through video with me, the same as Lodgy, Brad and Ryan (Rebels assistant coaches Erik Lodge, Brad Flynn and Ryan Colville) and everyone else in Red Deer have done. I have a good idea of why that (12-goal total) was and I’ve been trying to work on a lot of those things this summer.
“It’s been a long off-season but on the plus side I’ve had a lot of time to really go back and dig up everything from last year and look at why certain things happened and why certain things didn’t happen. I’ll keep doing that until next season starts.”
A big season offensive-wise would certainly be a bonus for Douglas, already a fine skater with a strong work ethic. It would go a long way towards the Rebels being a much improved team and him achieving his ultimate individual goal.
“The goal next year is obviously to sign an NHL contract,” said Douglas. “I’ll do whatever I can to make that happen. That’s what this summer has been about, me training like a professional.
“It’s in my mind 100 per cent. That’s the end goal and I’ll do whatever I can to achieve that.”
The Rebels were one of the youngest — if not the absolute youngest —teams in the WHL last season and, as expected, struggled through the early months. But the club made positive strides after Christmas.
In short, anything less than a playoff berth will be deemed a failure in ’20-21.
“I expect that 100 per cent and the guys in that dressing room expect us to be a playoff team as well,” said Douglas.
“It’s a great group of guys who have developed a lot since the beginning of last season. We were a young team but we’ve grown together and that’s one of the benefits of having everyone except two players (graduates Ethan Sakowich and Cam Hausinger) come back this next season.
“We still stay in touch. It’s a close group and that sets us up for success in the future.”