As the calendar flips to September, not only does that mean back-to-school time for families in Lethbridge, for many it means a return to the ice.
This year it’s an even longer-awaited return than usual for young hockey players, after Hockey Alberta ended play for teams in February due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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“I think my last game was around December,” said Carter Cook.
It was Nov. 12, 2021 to be exact – a 4-2 win over the Northwest Calgary Flames.
Cook’s first season with the AAA Hurricanes was limited to just five games and a whole lot of practice.
“It’s upsetting because we were 5-0 off the start…all the guys got along, it was great chemistry in the room, everyone loved each other,” said the 17-year-old.
But that group has had its veteran players move on, and now head coach Sean Gillam and his staff are tasked with evaluating a new batch of AAA hopefuls – about 110 of them.
“It’s a bit higher than usual, about 20 more skaters than usual,” Gillam said. “A good turnout this year, lots of kids getting ready to come back and try to make their top [U18] team.”
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Gillam says despite the lengthy break, the process and expectations haven’t changed.
Returning players like Cook know their spots on the team aren’t guaranteed, and they are feeling a push from the skaters trying to crack the roster for the first time.
“It’s very exciting to see all the guys come out, it’s always good to have people that want to play, It just makes it a lot more competitive,” Cook said.
“Especially for the returning players, they know that they have to keep going and push the younger guys, too.”
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Jasper Lyle is hoping to impress after playing AA last season in Taber. He says the goal for new players is to work hard and shake off some of the rust quickly, after months of limited time on the ice.
“We just want to play and get out, It’s been a long time,” Lyle said. “You train so hard, but eventually you want to see something, you want to look forward to something.”
Gillam and his coaching staff will narrow down the list of skaters throughout the week through a number of games. After finalizing their roster, the U18 AAA Hurricanes will prepare to begin the regular season in the first week of October.
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