Canadian junior hockey team turns rink into unique players-only hotel

Ever wonder what it’d be like live and sleep in a hockey rink?

Look no further than Red Deer, Alta., where the WHL team has turned the rink into a players-only hotel.

The unique conversion materialized following provincial approval last month for WHL teams in Alberta to play a short, 24-game season.

A look inside one of the suites at the hockey rink in Red Deer, Alta. The WHL team has converted the suites into makeshift hotel rooms for their players. Red Deer Rebels

But in giving its OK, the province said there would be no cross-border travel — meaning Alberta teams only play each other — and quarantining was a must.

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The Rebels said its players self-isolated at home for 10 days, then gathered in Red Deer and quarantined another four days while also undergoing COVID-19 testing.

Read more: Alberta-based WHL teams receive approval to play condensed season

Normally, junior hockey players live with billets. But because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Rebels turned the Westerner Park Centrium’s suites into modified hotel rooms for their players.

“Their mental health is something that’s important to me,” Brent Sutter, the team’s general manager and head coach, said on the team’s website.

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“I was concerned that the kids would have to be in their bedrooms at billet houses. If other people were in the house, they couldn’t be hanging around the house, they would have to be in their rooms.

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“We have things set up on the (Centrium) concourse . . . ping pong tables, basketball hoops, things like that. And we’ve moved our gym equipment upstairs because we can only have so many people in a room.

“We can’t put everyone in one room together, we have to use two or three dressing rooms.”

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One province away, in B.C., Kelowna Rockets president and GM Bruce Hamilton said the idea was brilliant.

“The unique thing with Red Deer is that it’s a massive complex because it’s an exhibition facility,” said Hamilton, who is also the chairman of the WHL’s board of governors.

“They’re able to use many parts of the building so the players can do different things, other than just play hockey. But for sure, the suites idea is unique; you’re close to your work when you’re sleeping right there.”

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WHL play in Alberta will start on Feb. 26, but fans won’t be allowed into arenas.

Elsewhere in the 22-team league, the WHL says its five U.S.-based teams will begin play on March 19 following approval from the state of Washington.

Read more: Western Hockey League U.S. Division approved to start 2020-21 season

Like Alberta, the five American clubs will only play each other and no fans will be allowed to enter WHL facilities.

And on Friday, the WHL announced that it had been granted approval to host a hub-centric model in Saskatchewan. All seven East Division teams will play all their games in Regina, beginning Friday, March 12.

“The WHL appreciates the cooperation we have received from both the Governments of Saskatchewan and Manitoba as we work towards a safe return to play in the East Division,” said WHL commissioner Ron Robison.

“With our extensive protocols and the necessary approvals now in place, we are looking forward to play getting underway in Regina and allowing our players to continue their development at the highest level in the Canadian system.”

Read more: Regina to serve as WHL East Division hub for Saskatchewan, Manitoba teams

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In B.C., there’s no word yet whether the province’s five WHL teams will be afforded the same approval.

“We’re just waiting,” said Hamilton. “First and foremost, it’s going to be about the safety of our players and our staff. The province will decide when we get our chance, I guess.”

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