While addicts ponder cross their fingers at every hint the National Hockey League’s big-money dance toward a playoff schedule and perhaps a Stanley Cup final sometime this year might be successful, hundreds of young athletes grow more anxious day by day, hoping they get to play at least part of their schedules in various college sports.
And money is close to the least of the concerns for these kids.
The five-day annual spring meeting of Alberta College Athletic Conference institutions ended a week ago with little clarity on the issue although CEO Mark Kosak and various other officials in the 18-team league came away – mostly – with a positive outlook.
As expected, a wide series of “options and alternate start dates” was devised and analyzed, he said.
A committee established to evaluate likely effects of the coronavirus pandemic will meet at least once a week in preparation for “a really big and important meeting dealing with massive variables” on June 25. Many essential details applying to all sports – when to start a season, length of schedule, possible change of regular play into tournament-style competition – will be put on the table.
Progressively, Aug. 1, a date in September and others in January have been debated in depth.
All options remain open, Kosak said, pointing out that safety of athletes, students, spectators and staff remains as the dominant factor in every discussion. Principals at some institutions have made it clear they do not expect any sports to be played in what normally is the ACAC fall season. Close to 50 per cent of the principals have made clear their concern that moving too quickly in one sport or one schedule might destroy all the good that the current cautious program may achieve. If necessary, all games would have to be sacrificed.
The veteran administrator posed one conservative, hypothetical and frightening prospect: A school from a difficult place (where control of COVID-19 might not be at the ideal level) when it goes to play a road game in a safer area. Then, say, one player on the home team comes down with the virus.
“What options are open if that happens?” Obviously, no organization could possibly benefit from such an occurrence. “I understand fully what those presidents are concerned about. At this point, they’re all justified to be worried about the potential for an outbreak on campus.”
Fortunately, Kosak said, all of the presidents recognize the value of college sports, mentioning the appeal of an athletic event, additional enrolment and potential gate receipts. He did not mention students’ enthusiam when they support a successful individual or team, but that element has been demonstrated for as long as athletes have competed at any level of education.
Cost of operation has prompted some ACAC schools to make deep cuts in athletic expenses. “We all have a similar problem” said Kosak. “Each school deals with it as best they can.”
Hockey budgets have been questioned most severely. A few weeks ago, NAIT Ooks head coach Tim Fragle accepted an offer to become head coach and general manager of the Trail Smoke Eaters in the Junior A British Columbia Hockey League.
They are not, of course, the fabled senior Smoke Eaters who won the World Hockey Championship for Canada in 1961, but Fragle treats the switch as a sort of homecoming. He is a former Smoke Eater captain, having played there after his career with the Sherwood Park Crusaders. Fragle was named coach of the year three times for NAIT.
Former Ooks standout Scott Fellnermayr moves up from the assistant’s job to replace Fragle as head coach.
Michael Hutchinson earns 31-save shutout, Maple Leafs blank Oilers 3-0
EDMONTON — Michael Hutchinson earned his sixth career shutout, and the Toronto Maple Leafs blanked the Edmonton Oilers 3-0 on Monday.
Hutchinson stopped all 31 of the shots he faced as the Leafs (17-4-2) shutdown Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and their teammates for a second straight game.
Toronto also blanked Edmonton 4-0 on Saturday with Jack Campbell in net.
Morgan Rielly and WIlliam Nylander had a goal and an assist apiece Monday, while Zach Hyman also scored for the NHL’s top team.
Oilers (14-10-0) goalie Mikko Koskinen allowed three goals on 10 shots before being replaced by Mike Smith to start the second period. Smith had 13 saves in relief.
Toronto was without Auston Matthews for a second straight game as the team’s star centre recovers from a wrist injury.
Matthews — who has 31 points (18 goals, 13 assists) on the season — is travelling with the team and took part in an optional skate with his teammates on Monday.
Toronto’s first shot of the night didn’t come until 7:19 into the first period, but it was worth the wait as Rielly put a pass on Hyman’s tape and the forward sent a nifty backhanded shot past Koskinen to give the Leafs a 1-0 lead.
Three minutes later, Nylander collected the puck off a faceoff and streaked deep into the Edmonton zone. He sailed a backhander over Koskinen’s glove and into the top-left corner of the net.
A power-play strike rounded out the first-period scoring after Edmonton’s Adam Larsson was called for hooking.
Rielly uncorked a blast from near the blue line and, while Koskinen got a piece of it, he couldn’t control the puck and it dribbled through his legs and over the goal line, giving Toronto a 3-0 lead heading into the first intermission.
The Leafs came into the game with the league’s top-ranked power play, having capitalized on 32.4 per cent of their chances with the man advantage.
Toronto was 1 for 4 on the power play Monday. Edmonton failed to capitalize on any of its four chances.
The Oilers had ample opportunities to claw out a goal in the third period, outshooting the Leafs 13-8 across the frame, but couldn’t beat Hutchinson.
The 31-year-old goalie’s last shutout came on Jan. 4, 2020, when he led Toronto to a 3-0 victory over the New York Islanders.
The Leafs and Oilers will wrap up a three-game series in Edmonton on Wednesday.
NOTES: Earlier on Monday, the Oilers claimed goalie Alex Stalock off waivers from the Minnesota Wild. … Toronto defenceman Jake Muzzin played in the 600th game of his NHL career. … The Leafs have never lost at Edmonton’s Rogers Place during regulation.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Mar. 1, 2021.
The Canadian Press
CP NewsAlert: Alberta lifts some COVID-19 economic restrictions, delays others
EDMONTON — Alberta is lifting more economic restrictions tied to COVID-19 while delaying others.
Premier Jason Kenney says low intensity group activities, like Pilates, can resume in fitness centres, and libraries can open at 15 per cent capacity.
But he says loosening measures for retail shops, hotels and community centres can’t happen yet.
He says COVID-19 cases have plummeted in long-term care homes and hospitalizations have dropped, but cases of the variant are worrisome.
Some medical experts, including the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association, warned the province last week against loosening public-health measures.
This is Stage 2 of a four-stage plan to reopen the economy announced by Kenney a month ago.
In Stage 1, restaurants were able to reopen for dine-in service, gyms were allowed to resume one-on-one fitness training and some restrictions were lifted on youth sports.
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