An unprecedented – and abbreviated – season is finally underway for Airdrie’s top junior hockey players.
After months of pandemic-related delays, the Western Hockey League (WHL) kicked off a shortened 2021 season on March 5. The major junior teams will each play 24 games in a season that wraps up in early May.
In order to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19 among players, WHL teams will be limited to playing against opponents from their own division, in bubble-scenarios similar to those underway in professional leagues. That means players will stay with their teammates in either hotels or dorm rooms for the next two months.
Several players from Airdrie are suiting up for WHL teams this spring – some for the first time. Among the city’s newest crop of WHL players is 16-year-old Josh Davies, who plays for the Swift Current Broncos. While he played a handful of WHL games before the pandemic, Davies scored the first goal of his junior career in a 4-2 defeat against the Saskatoon Blades in the Broncos' season-opener on March 13.
“[Scoring in the WHL] is definitely a goal I’ve had for quite some time now,” said Davies, an alumnus of the Edge School hockey program in Springbank and a former provincial championship-wining member of the Airdrie Xtreme AAA U15 team. “I think I have to give it to my teammates on that goal – they worked hard on the forecheck and popped the puck out front. They were battling for it and it popped right out to me at the right post. All I had to do was tap it in.”
Prior to joining the Broncos, Davies was a member of the Airdrie CFR Chemical Bisons for the 2020-21 Alberta Elite Hockey League season. However, the season was called off in November 2020 after just five games, amid a spike in COVID-19 cases throughout Alberta.
Given the lengthy hiatus from hockey since then, Davies said it has been a privilege to be back on the ice. Until early May, Swift Current’s players and staff will be staying at the Luther College dorms in Regina, Sask. They will play their 24 games against the league’s Saskatchewan- and Manitoba-based teams, who are also staying in Regina.
“It was definitely a long wait, going through the quarantine process back in Airdrie for seven days and then another six days here in Regina,” Davies said. “Finally getting into game-play has definitely been a long wait. It just felt good to get here and get a game under our belts.”
According to Davies, the players will mostly be isolating in their rooms, apart from ice times and team activities. While the conditions have been strict, he said he and his Broncos teammates are just grateful for the opportunity to play the sport they all love.
Another Airdronian who is eager to kick off his rookie campaign in the WHL is 16-year-old Jaren Brinson – a first-year defenseman with the Prince George Cougars. Brinson is slated to play his first game in the “Dub” on March 26 against the Kamloops Blazers.
A former Edge and Xtreme teammate of Davies, Brinson said he is keen to get the season underway, adding it has been a goal of his for many years to play in the WHL.
“It’s been great – the vets have been really welcoming to us new guys,” he said. “There are quite a few of us, as we’re a young team. The coaches have been great, laying down what they expect and our roles, so I’m really excited.”
According to Brinson, the Prince George Cougars are staying in Kamloops B.C. and will split their time over the next few months in either that city or Kelowna, as part of the WHL’s B.C. division.
Still a few months shy of his 17th birthday, Brinson said he’s excited to play junior hockey at the highest level, against NHL draftees and professional prospects.