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Airdrie Bisons disappointed as Mac's AAA U18 hockey tournament cancelled

The Mac's AAA U18 International Hockey Tournament was cancelled in light of the Omicron variant
The Airdrie Bisons will once again miss out on the opportunity to compete in the Mac's AAA U18 Invitational Hockey Tournament, which cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Less than two weeks after announcing the teams and format for this year's tournament, the Mac's AAA U18 International Hockey Tournament, which would have included the Airdrie CFR Chemicals Bisons, has been cancelled in light of the Omicron variant. 

Mac's organizers issued a statement on Dec. 21 to announce the cancellation of the yearly tournament, which is hosted in Calgary the week after Christmas.

"With the rising cases and constantly changing environment of the COVID-19 pandemic, we feel it is not appropriate to execute the tournament as planned," the announcement stated. "This decision was made after weighing all options and is based on many factors."

Those factors, according to the organizing committee, included consideration of the overall health and well-being of teams, spectators, and volunteers, reported positive cases among teams that were slated to compete, the impact of newly announced reduced capacity restrictions, and the inability to effectively isolate players due to arrival dates. 

The organizers also cited the inability to replace teams on short notice, travel-related concerns expressed by some teams, the inability for minor-aged players to leave Canada in the event of a positive COVID-19 test, and the inability to reschedule games in the event of COVID-19 outbreaks.

"We are disappointed for the players, coaches, and their families, but we hope for better days in 2022," the statement read. "We are considering all options moving forward, including rescheduling the tournament to a later date and will communicate any changes moving forward.

"No matter what happens, we look forward to a bigger and better tournament in the 2022-23 season."

The cancellation comes as Alberta experiences an exponential growth in Omicron cases – the Province had reported 1,045 cases of the variant as of Dec. 21, making Omicron the dominant strain of COVID-19 in Alberta.

The Airdrie Bisons are one of the host teams for the Mac's, and have competed in the tournament every year since the Bisons relocated to Airdrie in 2017. 

“The kids are gutted," said Bisons head coach Brad Bourke. "It’s really disappointing. For a lot of them, it’s a highlight of their year. And for these kids, it probably brings back bad memories as far as COVID-related [bans on] hockey, and taking away those opportunities. It's a first-world problem, but they’re definitely discouraged, for sure.”

The tournament usually features some of the best high-school-aged hockey teams from across Canada and the United States, in addition to international representation from Europe. The Mac's tournament is typically attended by many scouts of major junior, professional, and post-secondary hockey programs, hoping to find talent for future years.

The tournament – which usually begins on Boxing Day and lasts until early January, with the gold-medal game held at the Scotiabank Saddledome – was also cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It hasn't taken place since 2019. 

Bourke said as far as the Bisons' regular season, the Alberta Elite Hockey League (AEHL) is still operating as per normal, though the U18 AAA league is currently on a holiday hiatus until early January. Airdrie is currently sitting in fourth place of the eight-team AEHL South Division, with a 10-6-7 record.

“It sounds like everything should still be green-lighted in the new year," Bourke said. "We’ll wait to hear those things. It’s hopeful we’re in the limbo of Christmas break, which helps logistics in getting things in order.

“I think with everything, there are a lot of question marks going forward," he added. "The kids will be very disappointed in the coming days, for sure, but hopefully we can continue on with the season, which will start up again on Jan. 6 – which will come up pretty quick.”

Scott Strasser

About the Author: Scott Strasser

Scott Strasser, editor
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