You’ve probably heard some hockey players described as “living at the rink” when taking about their work ethic. Well, the Red Deer Rebels are making that a reality.
Players from the Western Hockey League team will be living inside suites at Westerner Park Centrium for the duration of the league’s 24-game season, which begins Feb. 26 and will feature only weekend games.
The five Alberta-based teams — Red Deer, Edmonton Oil Kings, Lethbridge Hurricanes, Medicine Hat Tigers, and Calgary Hitmen — will make up the WHL’s Central Division. There will be no cross-border travel due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Self-quarantining began on Jan. 30 with players staying in a local hotel for four days. The players were tested Monday and again on Thursday and will remain in the suites at the arena until all tests return negative. Once they’re given the all-clear, small group training will begin off ice and full team, on-ice workouts can take place.
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The team and league worked with Alberta Health Services to ensure a safe return to play.
“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,” said Rebels owner, GM, and head coach Brent Sutter told the Red Deer Advocate. “A lot of time and effort by everyone involved.”
No fans will be in attendance for games, which allowed the Rebels to get approval from the city and arena to let the players live there rather than be housed by billets.
How will players pass the time at the rink between games and workouts? According to the Advocate, basketball nets and ping pong tables have been set up on the concourse. Plus, each suite will have the all-important wifi. There will also areas to socialize safely and for school work. Meals will be catered from the arena kitchen.
“For the most part staff members will continue to live at home, keeping contacts to a bare minimum and following the other restrictions,” Sutter said.
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.