Categorized | News, Sports

Junior players on pause due to pandemic rules

Three Fort Macleod players find their junior hockey careers on pause while the COVID-19 pandemic rages in Alberta.

Jason, Creighton, Turner Sharp and Michael McTighe all toil for the Coaldale Copperheads of the Heritage junior Hockey League.

The Heritage league paused play last month following numerous positive COVID-19 tests among players around the league.

When the province implemented more restrictions, the league extended its pause into the new year.

It’s a bitter pill for the three veterans, who had individual and collective goals for the 2020-’21 season.

Creighton, 20, was anxious to get back on the ice after the Copperheads were upset by the High River Flyers in the first round of the playoffs last year.

Coaldale is a perennial championship contender in the Heritage league, so losing out in a five-game series that went the limit had Creighton anxious to reload.

“Being out early in the first round was pretty disappointing for me because that’s the first time I haven’t gone deep into the post season,” said Creighton, who is in his third season with the Copperheads. “I was looking to working harder and being more of a leader, to lead by example and be a better role model.”

For Sharp the 2020-’21 season meant a return to the ice.

A two-time Heritage league all-star, Sharp sat out all of last year with a back injury sustained in the 2018-’19 provincial championship tournament.

The veteran defenceman set high goals for the Copperheads going into his final season of junior hockey eligibility.

“My hope for this season is to capture the league championship,” said Sharp, 21. “The last two years I played we won the south division but couldn’t seem to get over the hump in the finals.”

A six-year Heritage league veteran, the 21-year-old McTighe also had his sights set on a successful season with the Copperheads.

“I was hoping to win a championship this season,” McTighe said. “Since it’s my last season I would like to go out on top and I felt like we had a good enough team to do so.”

This was McTighe’s first season with Coaldale after playing the previous five years with the High River Flyers.

The Flyers were an early victim of the pandemic, taking the league up on its offer to teams to sit out the pandemic season.

COVID-19 forced cancellation of the team’s annual golf tournament, its major fund-raiser. With the pandemic also impacting corporate sponsors, the Flyers opted out due to financial concerns.

That left McTighe looking for a new team, and he was happy to catch on with the Copperheads.

“It was going well,” said McTighe, who represented the Flyers last year at the Heritage league’s all-star game. “I was fortunate to have a few guys on the team I grew up playing with like Turner Sharp and Jason Creighton, and Sean Burns joining from the Flyers definitely helped make the transition easier.”

The Copperheads split an exhibition series with Medicine Hat Cubs, then started the regular season with a win and an overtime loss to the same club.

Creighton, who had 10 goals and 17 assists last season, started strong, picking up six points in the exhibition and regular season games.

“I was feeling pretty good about my game,” said Creighton, adding that new coach Doug Paisley was having a positive influence. “Learning Doug’s systems I feel has really helped my game. I feel I have played a better overall game.”

Sharp, who played for Paisley with the Lethbridge  Midget AAA Hurricanes, returned to the Copperheads late and had just two practices, missing the games due to work commitments.

“It was exciting to skate with new faces,” Sharp said of the new players who joined the Copperheads.

Heritage league officials will meet early in January to discuss whether the season can continue amid pandemic protocols.

The team was already limiting time in the dressing room, taking players’ temperatures when they arrived at the rink, and allowing just 100 fans for games.

Teams would play another club in four-game sets over two weekends, then take a two-week pause before playing a different team.

Creighton, Sharp and McTighe believe they will be back on the ice in 2021.

“I’m confident the season will start again soon, as there are a lot of smart, responsible people working for the league trying to figure out how to resume play as safe as possible,” Creighton said. “I feel like the restrictions the government has put out recently will help bring back hockey sooner rather than later.”

Sharp is also optimistic he will get the chance to finish his final year of eligibility with the Copperheads, where he has forged some of his strongest friendships.

“I am optimistic, or maybe hopeful, that the season will restart in the new year,” said McTighe, who had 19 goals and 21 assists last season with High River. “I’m just hoping we can find a way to get somewhat of a season in and finish my junior career off in a positive way.”

Should the Copperheads be able to pick up in 2021 where they left off, all three Fort Macleod players are optimistic about their team’s chances.

“I think our team can be successful as we have a lot of talented players who are hard-working and I feel like we don’t really have a weak spot on our roster,” Creighton said. “Doug holds all of us accountable and brings the best out of each one of us every game and practice.”

Sharp likes the look of this version of the Copperheads with its lineup of young and talented players.

“If the guys trust the coaches and buy into the systems, I believe we can win the league,” Sharp said.

McTighe agreed.

“I really like our team’s chance this season. Based off what I saw in the first few games and practices I think we have a solid and deep team that can succeed,” McTighe said.

“We aren’t sure if there will be playoffs or not so every game matters for us to finish at the top of the division and I think we have a good enough team to reach that goal.”

Comments are closed.