The Bonnyville Pontiacs can now play a different opponent–besides themselves.
After a series of exhibitions and a month of extended training camp essentially, the Pontiacs exhibition season is now set to begin next Friday, October 9 at the RJ Lalonde against the Fort McMurray Oil Barons.
The Alberta Junior Hockey League announced exhibition games on Thursday where each team is locked in with an opponent for a series of games. This is because of two-team cohort regulations imposed by the provincial government.
It’s the first of two home games with another exhibition game Saturday, before the Yaks head out on Highway 55 towards the Casman Centre in Fort McMurray the following weekend.
Only 100 people will be allowed into the rink during the game, and longterm, the AJHL awaits a decision on two key fronts.
The league is requesting under “serious about sport” conditioning permission to expand the cohort group from 50 people to 100 people, or from two teams to four in an exhibition season, and to allow more fans into home arenas.
This recent permission, however, allows teams to travel 200 kilometres outside of their area. The Pontiacs drew the farthest opponent geographically of any exhibition matchup, said coach and general manager Rick Swan.
“We’re the furthest distance to travel. But then there are positives to that.”
He explains that each facility dictates its own guidelines as far as dressing room protocols and if they allow to a maximum of 100 people in the stands.
“Their rink is like our rink, where we’re able to use dressing rooms, and we’re able to be in our dressing rooms at normal game time, versus some other rinks in our league that they have the 10-minute rule before and after. And there’s heightened restrictions with face masking and different regulations depending upon the facility,” said Swan.
“We’re ultimately happy because–hey–we get to play.”
Canmore Eagles’ ownership has decided to not participate until the regular season officially is set, while a couple of other teams have started their “developmental seasons” within the past couple of weeks.
“There’s maybe a heightened concern that they’re going to bring COVID into their community. And we’ve been here for months and knock on wood, our guys have been exceptional,” said Swan.
“I talked to Gord Thibodeau [coach] with his Fort Mac guys. They’ve been amazing….they understand what’s at stake and our guys do too. They don’t want to be that guy.”
The 2019-20 season was cancelled after the first round of the playoffs due to COVID.
This season was supposed to begin October 16.