Ethan Anstey has been waiting for this moment since around last fall and he’s planning on making the most of it.
The 18-year-old from Yellowknife will get the chance to play actual hockey again as he and his Fort McMurray Oil Barons teammates will suit up for their first game since late November when the Alberta Junior Hockey League resumes its 2020-2021 regular season tomorrow night. The league has been on hold since Nov. 21 following the Alberta government’s suspension of all activities owing to the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Needless to say, Anstey said it’s been a long enough wait.
“The one thing I’ve missed the most is the competitiveness of it all,” he said on Tuesday. “Getting back to practice made things more exciting and made it more real.”
The AJHL announced it would be returning to play on March 1 and everyone involved with every team had to go through stringent testing before practices could resume.
When it came to Anstey, he had to isolate here in town before making the trip down.
“I had to spend seven days in isolation at home, then I flew into Fort McMurray on Feb. 21, had to isolate seven more days when I got there, and our first practice was on March 1,” he said.
The league announced on March 5 that it had conducted testing on all of its players, coaches and staffs before they resumed operations and all 367 tests administered came back negative.
Unlike his teammates, who weren’t able to do anything ice-related while they were waiting to return, Anstey had the luxury of playing in the Yk Rec Hockey League while he was back home, something he said he was most appreciative to be able to do.
That gave him a bit of a jump when practice resumed, he said.
“My teammates were telling me I looked fast out there and I didn’t really notice,” he said. “I just thought I was keeping up better.”
The rest of the season will see the teams playing in cohorts within their division; no inter-divisional play will take place at all for the remainder of the campaign. The Oil Barons play in the North Division and will kick off the first cohort against the Spruce Grove Saints. Friday and Saturday will be the first of four weekends the two teams will square off against one another with a total of eight games scheduled.
Following the end of that, the league will take a short break in order to set up new cohorts.
Something else which is new is no playoffs. The teams will play out the remainder of the re-jigged schedule and that’s it – no champion crowned.
Anstey said it’s going to be weird but he has an idea as to why the league is doing it that way.
“I think they just want the players to get some exposure to scouts,” he said. “A lot of guys in this league end up going to school after they play and I’m sure that’s why they want us to do it this way.”
Had there been a playoff, Anstey has no doubt this team had a chance to go deep.
After all, when the season resumes, they will be atop the North Division with four wins out of their first four games.
From back in November.
“I think we had a chance to win it all,” he said. “The way we jelled in the early going, I’ve never been a part of any other team like that. We were so close right away and we bonded. No one’s a cancer in the locker room and it’s just a special bunch of guys.”
But at the end of the day, Anstey is just happy to get back playing.
Like the good old days.
“When I practice, I get excited thinking about it,” he said. “I can’t wait to play a competitive game again.”