The Chase Heat’s Gavin Mattey tries to muscle by the 100 Mile House Wranglers’ Jack Stewart to get puck past Wranglers’ goalie Jordan Wilde in game five of the teams’ playoff series on March 5, 2020. The game ended with a 4-1 win for the Wranglers, bringing the Heat’s playoff run to a close. (Rick Koch photo)

Wrangler’s new president Greg Aiken preparing for an uncertain season

‘We’re hoping there’s going to be hockey but we also don’t want to endanger anyone’s health’

The 100 Mile Wranglers have a new president for the 2020/2021 season in the form of former vice-president of seven years Greg Aiken.

First moving to the 100 Mile House area in 1979, Aiken used to play hockey himself as a young man and was involved with the 100 Mile Blazers B-Team when he was 20. Eventually, he got married, found a job and settled down in the area to have children and currently is semi-retired while running a lawn care business.

Aiken was voted in at the Wrangler’s AGM on June 16 where the organization shared their concerns and hopes for the upcoming season. COVID-19 has left many aspects of organized team sports an open question and while some countries such as New Zeland and South Korea have been able to hold them, it remains to be seen if Canada will as well.

“Our goal is, obviously, to provide hockey entertainment for the fans in 100 Mile and bring in players from out of town if we can’t have local players and turn these kids into good young community type guys and move them on to bigger and a better hockey career,” Aiken said.

The Wranglers are the northernmost team of 20 that make up the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League and play in the Okanagan Conference Division with players ranging from 16 to 20 years.

In addition to the Wranglers AGM Aiken said they also held their League AGM on June 13 where he said, naturally, there’s a lot of questions about what’s going to happen this season. At both meetings he said the general consensus has been there are just too many unknowns going into this season about whether they’ll even be able to play and what that will look like.

“We can’t play if we can’t have fans on our stands because that’s our biggest source of revenue,” Aiken said. “And the League is in the same boat, all the teams in the League rely upon fan support and if we’re not allowed to gather in groups of 300 to 500 people then most of the teams won’t survive.”

Beyond the obvious financial concerns, the safety of their fans is paramount as well as that of their team. As they bring in players from across the country and even from the United States there’s now a question of if they have to self isolate and whether or not they can trust they’re healthy enough to come into 100 Mile House and potentially impact the whole community.

“Let’s face it, we’re an older town, lots of retirees and a lot of our fan base is 55 plus and are they going to come to the rink, if there is hockey, and risk getting sick?” Aiken said. “There’s just a ton of unknown things that we can’t risk making the wrong decision on.”

Answering these questions and figuring out what the season will look like is the priority of Aiken and the Wranglers this summer. Something that will need to be done shortly is the creation of a schedule that commences on October 2, 2020, though he added that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be playing by October 2. Once they have a schedule in place for the League, the next step will be waiting to see how long it takes B.C. to get to Phase Four of the reopening process or simply to allow gatherings of more than 50 people again.

When you think about bus trips, hotel stays and restaurants, Aiken said, while the team is on the road that all adds up in addition to whether or not players will be allowed to sit beside one another on the bus. There’s also the spectre of another wave of infections come November, he added, which is another factor to consider.

Usually, the Wrangler’s season starts in early September, he said, with training camps beforehand to get the players ready. However, getting ice time right now is hard in small towns and they still need to do a training camp if and when they begin the season.

“Right now you’re allowed maybe 10 bodies on the ice at a time and that includes coaches and players so that’s probably not going to work for us either,” Aiken said.

Overall, his best advice to players is to do what training they can but with the knowledge that the chances of the season happening, one way or the other, is very much still up in the air. As soon as he gets the answers to these questions, however, he intends to share them with the community.

“We’re hoping there’s going to be hockey but we also don’t want to endanger anyone’s health, you know, by being reckless and trying to bring hockey in when we shouldn’t,” Aiken said. “First of all we need to worry about our fans and residents of our area that nobody gets sick, that’s our biggest concern. We don’t want to be that team that brings in a bunch of players from out of town and everyone gets sick, so our biggest concern is the people of 100 Mile.”

Joining Aiken on the Wrangler’s Board of Officers is Bill Harris as vice president, Rick Takagi as treasurer, Maureen Pinkney as secretary and Kim McCoy as executive director.

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