The WHL's Red Deer Rebels are taking a novel approach to ensuring they can play their 24-game 2021 season.
With the junior hockey league's Central Division set to open its season on Feb. 26, the Rebels are planning to house their players at the team's home arena, Westerner Park Centrium, for the duration of their campaign, rather than having their players stay with billets.
“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," Rebels owner, GM and head coach Brent Sutter told the Red Deer Advocate. "A lot of time and effort by everyone involved."
The club's return-to-play plan saw the team undergo a four-day hotel quarantine, which was completed Wednesday. All players were tested on Monday — and all tested negative, per the team — and will be tested again on Thursday before practising as a full team.
Until they receive their results from Thursday's tests, the Rebels players are quarantining in the arena's private suites, where they will be staying for the rest of the campaign.
Younger players on the team will work on their school studies at three locations in the facility, per the team, while social spaces will be created for the team to use, equipped with TVs, couches and card tables. Basketball hoops and ping pong tables have also been set up for the players, and their meals will be catered from the kitchen in the arena.
Rebels staff members will continue to live at home, "for the most part," according to Rebels senior vice-president Merrick Sutter, keeping contact to a minimum and following other safety guidelines.
The decision to allow players to live in the rink was aided by the fact that fans won't be permitted to attend games during the 24-game season.
“The kids are very excited about being here, they all showed up and are all settled into their own suites. The billets brought beds over and we borrowed some beds from other people. It’s actually really awesome,” Brent Sutter said.
“It was a lot of work but the kids are really excited and excited about getting back to playing some hockey and getting going here.”