Another hockey season, another year the Fort St. John Huskies won't have a chance to defend their 2018-19 NWJHL championship. The 2020-21 regular season and playoffs were officially cancelled on February 8, following meetings between league officials and Hockey Alberta.
"During this meeting, the Leagues and Hockey Alberta unanimously decided to conclude all regular season league play for the remainder of the 2020-21 season," said the NWJHL in a statement. "The NWJHL including all six teams, though saddened by this news, remains focused and will wait for the AHS restrictions to be lifted in order to get back to on-ice development and exhibition games to put a proper end to a dismal season."
For Huskies captain Aiden Tegart, who's in his fifth and final year with the team, the season didn't end like he and his teammates had hoped.
"We kept hearing good news was coming, and kept hoping for it, but it never really came," Tegart said. "It was hard the way last season ended, with the way we were playing, and we hoped we would get a chance to compete this year but it didn't work out."
Practice makes perfect
Still, the ever positive Huskies players and coaching staff aren't viewing this as a wasted season. While the team only played five regular season games this year, they skated throughout the season, practicing at least twice a week, and doing things for the community as a team when able. In fact, the Huskies are still practicing, and plan to do so into March.
"Practice has been pretty good, though we're missing showcase part, where they can take what they learn in practice and show it in games. The group has been really good, they've been competitive every practice, and we've had good attendance all year," said Huskies Head Coach Todd Alexander.
Tegart said the year has consisted more of indivudual skill-building, and that though it's not the same as in-game experience, the team made do.
"I feel like a lot of guys took a good step forward. We made the most of it, and nobody was too bummed about not being able to play," he said.
Ideally, Tegart would have liked to play some home games with the C on his jersey this year, but took pride in being a leader all the same.
"I still got to mentor the young guys, I have some experience to share, and having them want to listen to me and being named the captain did help my confidence too. It doesn't sound like much but it makes a difference," Tegart said.
Tegart is one of four players who are in their 21-year-old year right now, and will age out of junior hockey after this season. Joel Bourgeois (four seasons), Cooper Wilms (three) and Dean Whitcomb (three) are in their final year with the team as well. This is Tegart's fifth year with the Huskies, and, along with Whitcomb, is currently entertaining offers and scholarships to play college hockey next season.
"It's always been a dream for me to play college hockey. Now that it's in my reach, it's really fulfilling," Tegart said. He's very excited about the possibilities that would come with him moving away, possibly to another country, to play hockey.
"I just want to experience whatever new things I can, through academics, through hockey, and being able to experience a new town. Fort St. John is great, but small, and having a new place to go and meet people and make connections is something I'm really excited about."
Alexander has enjoyed working with Tegart the past five years, and is proud of the man he's become.
"He's come a long ways, and to watch him grow from a 17-year-old into a 21-year-old man has been an incredible experience. He's shown an incredible drive to work on his game, and was been a great teammate to anyone who's been a part of this program," Alexander said.
"He likes to take people under his wing, especially the underdog. That's who he is and the type of personality on our hockey club. He's a testament to what our program is," said Alexander.
Though Tegart wishes it ended differently, he's very grateful for his time wtih the team.
"It's an experience I wouldn't change for the world, the relationships I've made will be onces I have for live, and the skills I've learned both on and off the ice have contributed to who I am today. These five years polished me in every aspect of my life, and they've helped give me a voice to be who I want to be."
As for the Huskies as a team, Tegart thinks it's in great shape.
"I think the Huskies are in really good hands. The past few years, the culture Todd has been able to create, and the amount of winning that's happened, it makes guys want to come here, and guys who are from Fort St. John want to stay," Tegart said.
The Huskies had 12 rostered players listed as rookies this year, out of 27. Combine that with next year's rookies, and more than half of the Huskies players on the 2021-22 team could have no or minimal experience when it comes to playing meaningful hockey at the junior level.
"That's really interesting, and there will be a lot of teaching going on next year. There is a lot of extra speed and weight that gets added to the junior level, and that's two age groups of players who won't have experienced that," said Alexander.
"But it will be great to play again next year if we're able to. Even this year, just seeing the five games we got to play in November, our guys were so happy and it's amazing to see how much their spirits can be lifted by one hockey game."
Email sports reporter Dillon Giancola at email@example.com.