By the time they ascend to the junior ranks, most young hockey players have spent more than their fair share of time around the arena.
Being a rink rat is one thing, but living there is something else entirely. That’s exactly what Arshdeep Bains and his Red Deer Rebels teammates are doing as they prepare for a shortened 24-game Western Hockey League season that will only feature the league’s five Alberta-based teams.
For the last two weeks, Bains – a former star with the Valley West Giants of the BC Major Midget League – and his teammates have been bunking in the suites at the Rebels’ home arena, the Westerner Park Centrium; due to COVID-19 concerns and a desire to keep their bubble as small as possible, team brass decided to eschew the traditional billet system this spring.
No fans are allowed at the team’s games, so the suites were available to serve as makeshift hotel rooms.
“We agreed it would be the safest thing to do, the right thing to do, to make it work the best we could, to make sure we were following all the protocols and guidelines to be able to make it work. A lot of time and effort by everyone involved,” said Brent Sutter, the Rebels owner, general manager and head coach.
Beds and other necessities – from small refrigerators and microwaves to televisions and smoke detectors – were brought into each room, while common areas around the arena concourse were set up with couches, televisions, video games, basketball hoops and ping-pong tables.
Kitchens and eating areas, as well as washrooms and shower facilities are also located in common areas.
Bains, who is entering his fourth year in Red Deer, said the current arrangement has been a lot of fun so far, and likened it to summer camp.
“It’s been pretty interesting. Obviously nobody has ever had this experience before, living at the rink, but it’s been fun. Just being able to be around your teammates this much – playing hockey, hanging out, eating together – we’re pretty lucky to have this. It’s a cool opportunity,” he said.
Other WHL teams have taken different non-billet routes in order to house players. The Calgary Hitmen will be living in a hotel while the Lethbridge Hurricanes are staying in university dorms.
In total, the Rebels will spend about 13 weeks living at the rink – coaches and other adult chaperones alternate staying at the rink with the players – and Bains said he wasn’t worried about staying there for that length of time.
“I think the shortened season makes this more doable,” he said. “This is new, but it’s nothing we haven’t experienced before. We’ve all been away from home and had to adapt to different (living arrangements), new cities, all that stuff, so we’re all pretty good with this,” he said.
“We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t want to be. We’ve all been away from the game for almost a year now, so at this point we’ll take anything we can get. We’re all just really excited to get a chance to play again.”
The season begins Friday (Feb. 26), with the Rebels set to host the Medicine Hat Tigers.
– with files from the Red Deer Advocate