Due to COVID-19, the U18 NEBC Trackers were unable to defend their provincial championship in March as he tournament was cancelled. The Trackers restarted their quest to defent the 2019 title last weekend with their 2020 training camp, September 19 and 20.
All the uncertainties regarding the pandemic and a season of unknowns did not have an affect on the turnout, as 41 hopeful, young players turned out to fight for a spot on the team at the Pomeroy Sport Centre. In a normal year, there would be about 36 to 45 kids at camp, according to Trackers Head Coach Gerard Dicaire.
"Considering the circumstances, it was good to see that many players. There was a lot of late entries, usually we will cut off registration early but as a lot of thigns were up in the air and people didn't know what they were doing, we kept letting people sign up and it worked out," said Dicaire.
Camp would normally take place at the end of August, but this year it went almost a month later.
"These players didn't get to skate or be in camp all summer. It felt weird starting a month late, I felt like I was sitting around just waiting for it to start. But it was great to start getting some conditioning going for these guys," Dicaire said. "We're behind but that doesn't mean we can't extend the season into May and do it that way."
The late start time wasn't the only thing different for camp. In addition to players needing to show up to the rink already dressed as a result of dressing rooms not being in use, scrimmages could only take place in a four-on-four format with only four players on each bench. The Trackers would normally be split up into two teams and play a number of intersquad games over three days.
However, because of the restrictions and the high number of players, the team opted to have just two groups, as 20 skaters plus coaches are allowed to be on the ice for practice. It was an interesting change as Dicaire didn't get to see his players compete in game situations, but he was able to evaluate them anyway.
"Camp was still really competitive, but it's tough when you don't get to have exhibition games. You don't get to see how a kid responds after a mistake, or acts in certain situations. You miss those intangibles. We tried to facilitate game situations as much and as realistically we could," said Dicaire.
The Trackers will have about six players returning, including goalie Landon Hatton and Markus Ruehl, to name a few. Last year's team had eight players return.
As for new players, the majority of kids at camp were from Fort St. John and surrounding areas, such as Altona and Prespatou. Two players from Fort Nelson and one from Dawson Creek did try out, however. This year's Bantam Trackers team did have 15 players from Chetwynd and Dawson Creek try out, so the staff are hoping both Trackers teams become more of a true zone team in the years to come.
As it is with most hockey teams in the area, the Trackers don't know when there season will begin and who they'll play. Dicaire said he's getting calls from teams in Grande Prairie and Prince George to possibly set up exhibition games and play in cohorts when they are allowed to do so, but for the time being he's telling his players not to worry about those things, and focus on camp and practice.
Despite all the changes, Dicaire was able to give all the players the same message he normally would, pandemic or not.
"I tell them camp will be mentally and physically exhausting. We might not always be the most skilled but we will be the hardest working team. One thing we do have control over is whether or not a team outworks you. This team will be well conditioned and ready to go when they say we can."
Email sports reporter Dillon Giancola at firstname.lastname@example.org.