The Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL) has pulled the plug on the balance of its 2020-21 season.
Last night, league officials joined all other Alberta Junior B, C, and female leagues in writing off regular season play.
It's a hard, but necessary, pill to swallow for the Cochrane Generals, who started the season undefeated in their first three games.
In mid-November, the HJHL pushed pause on their season in what was hoped to be a two-week period. Since then, COVID-19 health measures have continued, to the point where it's not feasible to hold a season. Some of the small arenas in the area have already started pulling their ice.
Gens' general manager and head coach Kurtis Jones says now the focus will be on returning to training and arranging some exhibition play when health restrictions ease. They can only play exhibition games against other HJHL teams.
"Okotoks is on board, and I'm trying to get one or two more teams. We just got the news this morning, so I'm going to try and hammer it out this weekend to see if I can get more."
He's hoping the end result will be a series of weekend games once Alberta enters Step 3 in the return to play.
Top of mind for Jones is giving their graduating players a chance to play before they end their junior careers.
"We owe it to our 21-year-olds."
While recognizing the health issues, he says the shutdown of play from minor hockey through to juniors has been hard on youth. He says in the end, Hockey Alberta couldn't let it drag on any longer.
"It's sad for kids all around Alberta, and it's really sad for even graduating players. It's hard on junior 'A' guys, too, because they're 20, and then what about scholarship opportunities? What about the opportunity to move on? Hopefully, Hockey Alberta looks at it and changes something, changes the rule. I'm not sure if they will, but we'll see."
A short-lived 20-21 also season creates some challenges for the next season.
"We lose our 21s, so hopefully we have the core guys returning and can recruit other players to fill the spots. It's quite hard to do when you can't see everybody play."
In other Gens news, Jones has agreed to a one-year contract extension with an option year to return as general manager and coach for the 2021-22 season. His current contract expires at the end of the 20-21 season.