Vankleek Hill veteran Keean McEachern (left) is expected to return for the 2020-21 season.
Vankleek Hill veteran Keean McEachern (left) is expected to return for the 2020-21 season.

Cougars in high demand ahead of shorter season

Stephen Jeffery
EAP
Juniors have scrambled to get onto the ice at extended Vankleek Hill Cougars conditioning camps ahead of a shortened, uncertain season.

While the make-up, length, and starting date of the 2020-21 National Capital Junior Hockey League (NCJHL) season remains unclear due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cougars have focused on developing local talent for the team.

Cougars general manager Marc Berniqué said the club had added three more conditioning camps due to unexpectedly high demand.

“It was really surprising as we were expecting the camps to be at about 90 percent, but every cap is full,” he said. “The maximum for each session is 30 skaters and six goalies, so we’re looking at a really local team.”

When that team will join the regular season, however, remains in question. All 10 NCJHL teams expressed their desire to actively participate in the league at an August meeting, with hopes for a season start on December 1.

But the decision will be based on updates to Ontario’s Return to Hockey guidelines, which currently restrict the sport to no contact play and caps on the number of players on the ice and spectators.

Bernique expected home games would be held at Vankleek Hill Arena as usual during the shortened season, but said limits on spectator numbers could affect the club’s finances.

“We rely heavily on our fans, so that will make it difficult,” he said. “But we’ve held fundraisers, including a golf tournament earlier this month that had 130 golfers, so we’re still getting that strong support.”

Captain Keean McEachern is expected to return with Nikolas Ayotte and Frederick Durocher-Bourdon after a strong 2019-20 season. “We’re hoping to put together a strong team, and some of the newer players have really been surprising us,” Bernique said.