If the Airdrie Techmation Thunder are able to take to the ice this season, it will be under a new head coach.
After parting ways with Derek Stamp at the end of the 2019-20 Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL) season, Airdrie’s junior B team named Chad Moore as the squad’s new bench boss. The appointment is a kind of homecoming for Moore, who formerly played for the team.
“I’ve had a good relationship and connection with the Airdrie Thunder and that organization for many years,” Moore said. “I’ve followed them since I ended my career with them back in 2007. Something I really look forward to is giving back to the community and working with young adults – inspiring them, coaching, leading and mentoring them.”
A long-time Airdrie resident, Moore played most of his minor hockey career with local squads, including the Airdrie Xtreme AAA U15 team. After ending his minor career with the AAA U18 Bisons – then based in Strathmore but now in Airdrie – he logged a few seasons of junior B hockey with the Thunder before heading to Wisconsin to play for an NCAA Division 3 program.
Since finishing his time as a hockey player, Moore has become a coach. Most recently, he was an assistant coach for the Airdrie Lightning AA U18 boys’ team during the 2019-20 season.
“I’ve been surrounded by many good coaches and have a good background when it comes to vision and what it takes to be an effective leader and coach,” he said. “Spending the season with the AAs last year really helped open my eyes, and it was exactly what I was looking for.”
Having won the HJHL title in 2019, the Thunder are still technically the league's defending champion. Although Airdrie was eliminated during the second round of the HJHL playoffs last season, the 2019-20 season came to a premature halt in early March due to COVID-19, and no league champion was determined.
Taking the reins of a competitive U21 group that has developed a winning reputation in recent seasons, Moore said his coaching style will be an “open-door policy” and will center on developing the players' work ethic, passion, devotion and camaraderie.
“The primary focus will be controlling the controllables – making sure we’re all on the same page and making sure we’re all heading in a common direction together,” he said.
When exactly Moore will begin coaching the team remains uncertain, team president Gord Ziegler said, as the return of the HJHL depends on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ziegler said the league is eyeing Oct. 28 as a tentative start date, with a reduced 24-game schedule.
“But nothing is finalized, obviously, because we’re still in Phase 2 [of the Alberta government's relaunch strategy],” Ziegler said. “Until we move to Phase 3, there will be no hockey.”
If the HJHL season does go ahead, Ziegler said it will likely look very different compared to any previous year. He added some teams have communicated that attendance will not be permitted in their arenas or could be capped at 50 fans.
He said other possibilities could be teams moving from the south division to the north division to limit travel, or that teams would only play opponents in their own division.
“There are too many uncertainties as of right now to even comment if we’re going to proceed,” he said. “At the end of the day, the Airdrie Thunder organization will take safety as the utmost number one [priority], and if things don’t change, it’s not looking very good for anyone to play hockey this season.”
Given pandemic-related restrictions on sporting events, tryouts for the Thunder will likely not be held this fall, and Ziegler said the team won’t be able to book ice at the Ron Ebbesen Arena until October at the earliest.
Financially, Ziegler added every HJHL club will likely face some hardships this year compared to the past, as teams were unable to hold their usual fundraisers or pursue corporate sponsorships during the summer.
“We’ve chosen not to be hitting up people [for sponsorship] because I think our [province's] unemployment shows," he said. "Most companies are on some kind of program, so for them to donate money doesn’t make sense.
“Even my company [Techmation Electric], we donate quite a bit of money to the Thunder, but it’s not in our budget because it just doesn’t make sense to do that when we’re still trying to get people back to work.”
According to Ziegler, league officials will meet with team presidents Aug. 31 to further discuss options for the 2020-21 season.