Categorized | Sports

Ranchland Hockey League prepares for new season

The Ranchland Hockey League and the Fort Macleod Mustangs are preparing for a return to the ice following a one-year pandemic break.

After a one-year absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ranchland Hockey League returns to the ice in mid-October.

The league held its annual general meeting in May and then had a follow-up meeting earlier this month.

“Everything is looking good,” commissioner Jerry Muise said Thursday. “We’re planning on a full schedule of 20 games, with six teams, as long as COVID stays away and we have no restrictions.”

Fort Macleod Mustangs, Nanton Palominos, Kainai Braves, Siksika Buffaloes and Lethbridge Lightning are all returning to the Ranchland league.

New this year are the Innisfail Eagles, a Senior AAA team that in recent years has competed for the Allan Cup, symbolic of senor hockey supremacy in Canada.

“They (Eagles) are still going to declare AAA, and when playoffs come around they will not compete in the league playoffs,” Muise said.

Results against the Eagles will count in the Ranchland league’s regular season standings.

“I think a lot of teams are looking forward to Innisfail coming to their arena,” Muise said. “The other five teams will be competitive with Innisfail. The AAA teams look totally different in January than they do in October because they ramp up (for provincial playoffs).”

Muise said the league’s  teams have reported losing some players during the COVID-19 pandemic absence as priorities shifted.

The Mustangs will schedule tryouts as soon as the ice goes in at the Fort Macleod and District Sports Centre, likely at the beginning of October but possibly sooner.

Muise expects Innisfail will want to affiliate some players from other Ranchland teams once they see them in action.

Teams are optimistic they will ice full lineups in the 2021-’22 season.

“Most of the teams seem to have kept their numbers good,” Musie added. “One of the biggest problems is sponsors. Businesses have been hurting.”

The Ranchland’s teams rely on the support of corporate sponsors to meet their budgets.

Muise, who is also commissioner of the North-Central league, said the strength and popularity of senior hockey in Alberta rises and falls.

Ten years ago the North-Central league had nine teams. All those teams are gone, replaced by nine new franchises.

“It varies on the economy, the players available,” Muise said. “When the economy booms people are moving to the province.”

Fort Macleod Mustangs general manager Mike Volk stayed in contact with his players during the pandemic break.

Volk said some have indicated they will not be returning, as happens every year, but a strong core should be back.

“I’ve been in touch with lots of former players of our league, graduating junior A and B players as well as graduating college and university players in southern Alberta,” Volk said. 

Mustangs players are also spreading the word with their friends in the hockey world.

“We encourage our current players to ask around to friends about coming to our tryouts to see if senior men’s AA hockey is for them,” Volk said.

The Mustangs will schedule tryouts as soon as the ice goes in at the Fort Macleod and District Sports Centre, likely at the beginning of October but possibly sooner.

Players aged 18 years and over are encouraged to try out for the Mustangs. 

“It should be a great season,” Volk said. “We are all looking forward to getting back on the ice and playing senior men’s AA hockey again.”