The Fort McMurray Oil Barons have ended its athletic season as the region continues leading the country and province in COVID-19 spread per capita.
A Wednesday statement from David Fitzgerald, president of the Fort McMurray Oil Barons, said the decision was made to protect athletes, billet families, staff and everyone else involved with the organization and AJHL. The players from outside Fort McMurray are returning home.
“This was a difficult choice, but one we felt was necessary to maintain the health and safety of our organization and community,” he said. “We have a proud 40-year history in the AJHL and pride ourselves on teaching our players the core values of teamwork and leadership—both on and off the ice.”
Fitzgerald said the team has followed all COVID-19 protocols mandated by the province. No COVID-19 cases have been detected among any staff, players or billet families.
Head Coach Gord Thibodeau said the decision was painful for the team, but everyone agreed it was the right one considering the region’s viral spread.
“When we talked to them about the situation, they were all in favour of doing what was best for the community of Wood Buffalo and Fort McMurray,” he said. “The last thing we want to do is be part of the problem.”
The Oil Barons finish at the top of the Viterra AJHL North devision and third in the AJHL. They finish the season with 12 wins, one loss and three overtime losses.
“We’re very thankful for the opportunity to play during this COVID season and the boys did exceptionally well,” said Thibodeau. “We’re very proud of them and the results speak for themselves.”
When games were suspended in November because of high COVID-19 cases, the Oil Barons had won all four regular season games played before the pause.
Teams were allowed to return in the spring. They had to quarantine for 14 days if anyone within an AJHL cohort, including players or staff, tested positive for COVID-19. All players and staff screenings were monitored through the SureHire Risk Assessment App. Fans could not attend games, which were shown on HockeyTV. Teams were paired in cohorts and completed 14-day quarantines before moving on to a new partnering.
The Oil Barons returned to the ice on March 12 to face the Spruce Grove Saints, winning six out of eight games. The team split a four-game cohort with the Grande Prairie Storm. The Oil Barons were in quarantine to await their next cohort when the decision to end the season was made.
Thibodeau is optimistic the vaccine rollout will gain speed this summer and is hoping the team can begin training for the 2021-22 season soon.
“We’ll take our direction from the community and from the government,” he said. “Everyday we’re getting more and more vaccines. We’ll look at things again in July and August, and hopefully we’re going to be looking at a better scenario than what we have right now.”
At the time of the announcement, the RMWB had 1499.8 cases per 100,000 people, the highest in Alberta and Canada. The region has 1,235 cases in Fort McMurray and 17 in rural areas, more than the rest of rural Alberta. These numbers do not include the commuter workforce. The region also had outbreaks at 19 workplaces and 14 schools.
-with files from Laura Beamish