Having any junior hockey last season was a minor miracle considering that so many other athletes were on the outside looking in thanks to the pandemic.
Ethan Anstey was one of the lucky ones as the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) played a very truncated schedule and he’s very much looking forward to a full one this time around.
The 19-year-old from Yellowknife is back with the Fort McMurray Oil Barons of the AJHL for his second season. Training camp began back on Aug. 20 with Anstey and his teammates getting put through their paces, though it hasn’t been a complete boot camp.
At least not yet, said Anstey.
“The workouts are gradually increasing,” he said this past Monday. “It’s hard for the coaching staff to bag us when there’s 30 guys at camp but it’s slowly getting cut down. We’re still getting into game shape and we’re getting up to speed.”
Anstey did get in a bit of time on the ice before leaving for Fort McMurray as he joined in on the Yellowknife Sporting Club’s annual summer camp last month. He was part of the junior high-performance group along with players such as Logan Cunningham, Alex Cordero, Liam Tereposky, Sam Schofield, Lonan Bulger, Brady Seabrook, Emmery Golchert and Anthony Duhamel.
“They put on a good clinic for us up there,” said Anstey.
The 2021 AJHL season consisted of just 24 games for each team, all done in cohorts based on region — North or South Division — with no playoffs or championship awarded. Anstey managed to find the back of the net once and assisted on two others for three points.
This season, Anstey said the team is preparing for a long campaign.
“We’re just going to do our best to stay loose and stay healthy,” he said.
Anstey’s role on the team last season was centering a checking line which was dispatched to go up against the opposition’s top line on a majority of shifts and give the team a boost of energy.
For this season, Anstey said he doesn’t yet know what his role will be.
“I haven’t talked to the coach about that,” he said. “I’m the kind of player who likes to go out and get the momentum back for our team.”
For purposes of Covid-19, the AJHL will be playing under the guidelines set out by Hockey Alberta. As it stands, there are no restrictions of any sort from the province’s chief medical officer of health in terms of dressing room capacity, the amount of players on the ice or caps on attendance.
Vaccinations are not mandatory for players, though Anstey said he was getting his second vaccination today.
“Last season was all about staying away from close contact and isolating if anyone caught it,” he said. “This year, if you have your two shots, you’re fine. If you have one vaccination and you come into contact with someone who has it, it’s seven days in isolation and it’s 14 days if you aren’t vaccinated at all. I’m just hoping I don’t come into contact at all.”
But things are still iffy with Covid-19, he added, and he knows things could come crashing down at any moment.
“I hope it has no effect on us this year but you never know,” he said. “I’m just happy to be back here and do Yellowknife proud.”
Anstey and the Oil Barons kicked off the pre-season on Wednesday versus the Spruce Grove Saints and followed that up yesterday against the Olds Grizzlys.