As the calendar shifts to September, that not only means back-to-school time for families in Lethbridge, but for many it means a return to the ice.
This year is an even more anticipated return than usual for young hockey players, after Hockey Alberta ended team play in February due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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“I think my last game was around December,” Carter Cook said.
It was November 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 plenty of practice.
“It’s disturbing because we were 5-0 from the start … all the guys got along, there was great chemistry in the room, they all loved each other,” said the 17-year-old.
But that group has pushed its veteran players forward, and now head coach Sean Gillam and his staff are tasked with evaluating a new pool of AAA hopefuls, about 110 of them.
“He’s a little bit taller than usual, about 20 more skaters than usual,” Gillam said. “This year there was a good turnout, many children are preparing to return and try to do their best. [U18] team.”
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Gillam says that despite the long hiatus, the process and expectations have not changed.
Returning players like Cook know their spots on the team aren’t guaranteed, and they feel a push from skaters trying to break the roster for the first time.
“It’s very exciting to see all the guys come out, it’s always good to have people who want to play, it just makes it a lot more competitive,” Cook said.
“Especially for the returning players, they know they have to go ahead and put pressure on the younger ones as well.”
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Jasper Lyle hopes to impress after playing AA last season at Taber. He says the goal for new players is to work hard and get rid of rust quickly, after months of limited time on the ice.
“We just want to play and go out. It’s been a long time,” Lyle said. “You train really hard, but eventually you want to see something, you want to wait for something.”
Gillam and his coaching staff will narrow the roster of skaters throughout the week through several 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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