It’s been an unusual off-season for junior hockey teams across Canada. With the end of the 2019-2020 season cancelled due to COVID-19, teams have been waiting to hear news about whether or not the 2020-2021 season will get underway on time.
All teams have had to cancel their spring camps which they use to evaluate players and showcase what their organization has to offer to potential players.
With no camps, it means teams have to watch more video and work the phones talking to coaches, parents and the kids to get to know the players better.
Fort McMurray Oil Barons Head Coach and General Manager Gord Thibodeau has been extremely busy the past two months, recruiting players to Fort McMurray and so far in total, has 12 new faces that could be at main camp come September.
Thibodeau has signed eight players to a letter of intent and acquired four more through trades that were completed on June 1st.
“The one thing we’ve tried to focus on with the signings is trying to get some character kids,” said Thibodeau whose first signing came back on April 7th in Fort McMurrayite Max McCoy.
“Max is a great kid, he’s a heart and soul player and I’m excited to see him.”
The 17 year old McCoy played four games with the MOB least season as an affiliate player and captained the OHA Edmonton Prep in the CSSHL. He racked up 18 goals and 58 points in 29 games.
One of the more recent signings who Thibodeau is high on is Aidan Moore from the AMHL Calgary Northstars.
“I think one of the diamonds in the rough could be Aidan Moore out of Calgary. He’s a kid who has a lot of goal scoring potential and I really like the way he shoots the puck and releases the puck and he could be a guy who’s a little underrated who could turn into a bonafide goal scorer,” said Thibodeau on Moore who scored 13 goals in 32 games last season.
The MOB have also signed Moore’s teammate Clarke Huxley who was the Northstars captain and had 18 points in 32 games.
Also upfront, the MOB searched out east and grabbed Joshua Russell from Miramichi, NB and up north in Ethan Anstey from Yellowknife, NWT.
“Ethan (Anstey) from Yellowknife, NWT is a buzz saw, he’s a guy whose motor never stops and that’s something we wanted to add was speed upfront. Joshua Russell from New Brunswick is a tough, hard guy to play against who goes to the net and plays with a chip on his shoulder,” said Thibodeau.
Anstey who has family roots in Newfoundland could quickly become a fan favourite at the Casman Centre with his tireless work ethic and ability to score. The 18 year old had 12 goals and 38 points in 36 games in the CSSHL for Shawnigan Lake School Prep.
Russell a tough forward had 19 goals and 33 points in 27 games playing for the Ontario Hockey Academy last year.
When looking at players to recruit, Thibodeau noted the MOB looked heavily at the 2002 age group for players with a bit more experience and strong leadership qualities.
“We wanted to do two things, we were trying to get leaders for one and out of the eight that we signed I think three or four of them are captains which is important to us to get great leadership and we also want to compete right now and we want to get better and compete for one of those top three spots. That’s tough to do if you load your team up with 16 and 17 year olds so that’s why we went a bit older with some of our recruits because the time is now and we want to make sure our fans get back to our winning ways and supporting a team that’s striving to win championships,” said Thibodeau.
On the blueline the MOB have brought in Jack Wolder from the AMHL Calgary Royals. Wolder played three games for the MOB last season. They also added 19 year old Rider McCallum from Langly, BC who has spent the past two seasons in the KIJHL with the Revelstoke Grizzlies. Lastly they signed Brendan Wang an offensive defenceman with the potential to run the powerpaly. Wang had 32 points in 36 games in the CSSHL with Burnaby Winter Club Prep.
June 1st saw the completion of all the future considerations in trades across the Canadian Junior Hockey League from last season. The MOB acquired four players through three separate deals.
Hassan Akl and Jordan Hendry come to the MOB from the BCHL’s Surrey Eagles as a part of a trade that sent the CJHL playing rights to Reece Klassen to the Eagles. A nice haul for the MOB considering Klassen never played a game for them. Akl, a speedy forward had 20 points in 45 games split between Surrey, Calgary and Drumheller last season. Hendry, a defenceman played 34 games split between Surrey, Powell River and Trail.
18 year old Nickolas De Beurs comes over from the Drumheller Dragons from the deal that saw veteran goalie Chris Curr head south. De Beurs had 13 points in 41 games for the Dragons.
Lastly, Brendan Kuny was sent to the MOB from the Drayton Valley Thunder to complete the Colson Gengenbach trade. Kuny had 12 points in 26 games with the Thunder and also suited up in 11 games for the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings. Thibodeau noted that Kuny may play in the Western League next season.
Two players who had opportunities to return to the MOB and battle for a 20 year old spot have decided to head off to school and begin their college careers.
Brendan Stafford who spent two seasons in Fort McMurray and suited up in all 58 games last season has committed to the NAIT Ooks of the ACAC. Stafford finished third in team scoring with 39 points and finished his MOB career with 66 points over 107 games.
The second college commit is Hunter Leslie who is off to Concordia University after one season in Fort McMurray. Leslie had 10 points in 44 games last season.
“They’re great kids and I’m really pleased for them. You can never fault a kid who wants to pursue his education. In these difficult times with the spring we’ve had I think kids start to realize that maybe hockey isn’t the end goal all the time,” said Thibodeau. “For both Hunter and Brendan they were very mature and professional about their decisions, they called us early and told us they were looking at these options and you can’t help but support them because you want what’s best for them. I think both felt that this is the right time to move forward and play college hockey and get their education and we certainly support that and we’re extremely pleased what both of them brought to the program.”
There is still a lot of question marks regarding the upcoming season and when teams will be allowed back into their arenas. The Alberta Junior Hockey League is waiting to hear from Hockey Canada as well as Alberta Health Services. A meeting is expected to take place later this month with more information and the potential release of a schedule for the upcoming year.
“We’re hopeful right now that September 1st will be the start of main camp and the season will start on time on September 18th but there’s a lot of contingency plans being put in place but a lot can change over the next month and we just hope everyone stays safe and we stay strong and hopefully get back to playing hockey the game we love soon,” said Thibodeau.