LAC LA BICHE - Although it is going to be an unusual hockey season for Lac La Biche's Junior B Clippers, the team will have it's usual support after a group of 30 community members attended a team emergency meeting last week.
Team officials put out the call for community support in the wake of a COVID-compliant season that may require a lot more assistance from volunteers. When more than two dozen people showed up for the Oct. 1 meeting, team manager Willie Abougouche was pleased.
"We got 30 people, so the team is a go," said Abougouche. "It was niche to see that response. The community wants a team, that's for sure."
A larger-than-normal crew of volunteers is expected this season as helpers will be needed to work multiple games in the same positions due to COVID precautions.
With the support in place for game volunteers, Abougouche and the Clippers now have to navigate some uncharted waters when it comes to a COVID-adjusted season. With plans changing on a regular basis due to health and safety protocols, Abougouche says the most recent version will see exhibition games start over the Halloween weekend. Those games will feature two teams playing a home-and-home series keeping in line with cohort-friendly protocols.
Only the Vegreville Rangers team has opted to sit out of the eight-team Northeast Alberta Junior B Hockey League this season.
The league's uneven number of teams will mean that one team will not play in the opening weekend. Which teams will be paired together has yet to be determined — but Abougouche hopes the first games are with neighbouring St. Paul Canadiens. The Clippers and Canadiens were to face-off in the league championship series at the end of the last season, before the COVID pandemic cancelled all league play.
Abougouche said in the weeks leading up to the exhibition games, the Clippers will open their tryout camp, seeing skaters hit the Bold Center ice on Oct. 16 and 17. Despite the uncertainties brought on by the pandemic, he says there is "a lot of interest" from skaters looking for a spot on the team.
Interest has also helped to get the team closer to securing their own bus for trips to away games. A continuing fundraising drive has raised about $9,000 towards the team-wide ride. Abougouche says the bus will also be available for other area groups.
"It's not just for the junior B's, minor hockey could use it, or other groups," he said, suggesting reduced costs for local users. "It's part of that community support that we all share."