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   Heritage Junior Hockey League:
Cubs were built for provincials — but tournament never happened
- Submitted by

Today was supposed to be a celebration in Medicine Hat with a jam-packed rink full of fans.

The Hockey Alberta Jr. B Provincial Championship was slated to run April 2-5 at Medicine Hat's refurbished Kinplex.

The eight-team tournament, which would have included the host Cubs, was cancelled along with every other sporting event due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

It was a tough pill to swallow for Cubs GM/director of hockey operation Dave Kowalchuk and everyone else involved in planning the tournament.

"We had a pretty good committee, lots of volunteers and parents," Kowalchuk said. "We had a worker schedule, everyone was signed up and ready to go.

"But unfortunately the whole world is going through this right now."

There's a chance all that preparation won't need to be tossed out.

Hockey Alberta sent out a survey asking teams if they would be in favour of postponing major tournaments for a year.

"There are talks about bumping everyone back," Kowalchuk said. "So there is an opportunity for us to host next year.

"We're definitely for it. We said we would definitely like to host in 2021. We don't know where that will go or what will happen but we're pretty optimistic that whoever didn't get to host this year will be able to next year."

The Cubs, who also hosted the HJHL All-Star Game and Top Prospects Game in January, were eliminated by the Cochrane Generals in the second round of the playoffs, but a plan was in place to keep the players sharp leading up to the provincials.

"After that Game 7 loss to Cochrane, we told the guys to take a week off," Kowalchuk said. "The night that the NBA packed it in, we met as a coaching staff and we were discussing our plans.

"We had two exhibition games lined up and two full weeks of practice. We thought we had a team that would do extremely well at provincials. We had a team that was built for provincials.

"But we watched on TV and when the NBA closed it down, we thought 'oh, boy. The trickle effect is coming.'"

It can be difficult to evaluate a season that never really ended, but Kowalchuk said 2019-20 was a success in his books after the Cubs finished with a 25-11-2 record, good for third spot in the HJHL's South Division.

"We took over late last year and our goal was to turn the Cubs into a contender every year," Kowalchuk said. "Last year, we took Coaldale to Game 7 in the South semi — we were one goal away from going to the South final.

"So we were optimistic going into this year. We did some good recruitment. Our mission is to get better every year. We want to be competitive — we want to take out Okotoks and Red Deer and Airdrie and those top teams.

"I'm very happy with the year. We went from 17 wins to 25. It's a good league. Everybody has to be proud of this league. Now we're focused on becoming a real tough contender and making the Kinplex a tough place to come in and play. This is a storied franchise - we'll be 57 years old next year."

The 2019-20 Cubs were built with the provincial tournament in mind. There will be a few new faces next season but the Medicine Hat coaching staff hopes to put piece together another squad capable of competing for the ultimate prize.

Both goaltenders — Dawsen Savage, the club's rookie of the year, and Logan Leroux — will return.

Up front, Spencer Chapman will move on and Chandler Aleman is likely gone as well.

"I've been recruiting already, trying to land a couple kids out of Saskatchewan," Kowalchuk said. "We'll have a good core coming back.

"Trying to replace that scoring punch will definitely be my goal — finding two or three guys who can put the puck in the net like those guys that we'll lose.

"I think if we fill a few holes, we should have a pretty good team next year."

It will be a good day when people can go back to worrying about hockey games.

Until then, Kowalchuk is staying home and staying safe.

"We have to get through this right now," Kowalchuk said. "People have to be smart.

"We want our hockey back, we want our sports back.

"But I think it's crucial that people lay low for a bit, let this thing pass and then we can get back to the way life was."

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