A lot can change in a year.
Twelve months after voting to introduce an interlock schedule the Alberta Junior Hockey League at its semi-annual meeting on Nov. 25 opted to scrap the plans and stick to the traditional North and South division format.
“The group had to look internally and perhaps some members went back and did a little more research and homework and analyzed the numbers a little more as far as how it truly would impact the organization,” said AJHL commissioner Ryan Bartoshyk, an Okotoks resident. “We had some good conversation on the concept again and understood we were going to go back to the status quo.
“At the end of the day, it was a consensus that this decision was in the best interest of all of our members and the AJHL.”
Representatives from all 16 members of the league were present at the meeting.
Bartoshyk said some teams were more in favour of the interlock than others, but the decision to stick to the current system was close to unanimous.
“Even those who were in favour of it sat back and understood the impact of it on some of their members and partners around the table,” Bartoshyk said. “And at the end of the day felt it was best for everyone.
“If anything it really forced everyone to look at their financials a little closer and understand how they’re operating and how they need to operate moving forward to be successful.”
Financial considerations were chief among the factors. The re-vamped schedule, which was set to be introduced in 2018-19, would have seen every squad in the 16-team league play each other four times, twice at home and twice away. Currently, teams play division rivals six times and out of division opposition just twice per season.
The positive side of interlock would have given the league more competitive balance, created more rivalries and exposed local fan bases to more opposition on a more regular basis. For those on the geographic extremities, in particular, the travel cost increase would be considerable.
Okotoks Oilers president Brad Robson estimated the interlock schedule would have added 10 to 15 thousand to the team’s travel costs.
“This is the way to go right now until some of the teams can figure out their finances” Robson said. “For the next three years this is definitely the step we had to take in the right direction and for the betterment of all organizations and the league as whole.”
In a perfect world where financial viability would have allowed it for all 16 teams, the Oilers would have favoured the move to interlock.
“The last two, three years a lot of the power in our league has been from the teams up north,” Robson added. “For our fans in Okotoks and area if you can watch the Fort Macs, the Whitecourts or Spruce Groves an extra couple of times it just makes for better hockey.
“And for our hockey club when you’re playing better hockey clubs it makes us better at the end of the day.”
Other topics discussed at the meeting included potential changes to the playoff format.
Bartoshyk said the idea of the north and south playoff teams crossing over and reseeding in the final four was floated at the meeting and will be revisited at the AGM in May.
The league also announced it will be discontinuing the Western Canada Cup format as of 2018 and returning to the old Doyle Cup format which saw the BCHL and AJHL champions square off in a best-of-seven series to advance to the RBC Cup.
The Western Canada Cup featured a host team and the champions from B.C, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Facing long miles and longer odds with a shortened bench the Oilers came home from a three-game road trip with two points.
Fort Mac edged Okotoks 3-2 despite the visitors out-shooting the MOB 42-22 on Nov. 30.
The Oilers bounced back and erased an early deficit to thump the Bonnyville Pontiacs 6-2 on Dec. 1. Defenceman Jacob-Bernard Docker led the way with one goal and four assists.
JBD, forwards Dylan Holloway, Austin Wong and Blake Wells all jetted off to Calgary to skate at the Canada West evaluation camp for the World Junior A Challenge on Dec. 2.
The quartet were absent for Okotoks’ 2-0 loss that night to the Lloydminster Bobcats with just 14 Oilers dressed in the contest.
Okotoks is home this weekend to a back-to-back set featuring the Drayton Valley Thunder and Spruce Grove Saints on Dec. 8-9.
Both games are 7 p.m. starts.